Lot planned for home in Finksburg being checked for old cemetery site

Construction is on hold as determination is made


July 13, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Johnetta Miller pushed aside head-high weeds to find a small wooden cross, lying at the base of her fence on the lot next door - the site of an old cemetery where remains may still be buried, she and others believe.

She said her sons found a grave not long after the family moved into the 2800 block of Cedarhurst Road in Finksburg about 11 years ago when a basketball went astray from their driveway backboard.

"They came running in saying, `We found a tombstone,'" Miller recalled. She went to investigate and found two fieldstones along the fence next door, one inscribed with a name. Her fiance made the little cross, she said, and "I tried to keep them clean."

Although she is used to the idea, Miller said she wondered then whether remains were under her driveway. She worries that a new house planned for the lot next door will disturb the dead. "I said, `Oh my goodness, they're going to dig into bodies.'"

But the plan to build a three-bedroom house on the lot is on hold, for now.

A new well on the site

A white plastic pipe marks a new well drilled at the site, where construction was halted by the Carroll County Health Department for 180 days to clarify ownership of the old cemetery plot, an official said. An investigation also is under way by Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, who is responsible for disinterments and reburials.

"We think there's a lot more burials under the ground," said George Horvath of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, which initiated the investigation. "I don't think they looked around for all the graves. Some were in back, some in front."

In a brief response, the new owner of the lot, Charles J. Plunkert of Westminster, said, "I don't know anything about any cemetery." He declined further comment.

The property was purchased in 1806 by Flinn Garner, who created a family cemetery there and died in 1859, said Horvath, also a member of the Historical Society of Carroll County. He said the cemetery is sketched on a 1903 plat, listed in J. Thomas Scharf's histories in 1881 and 1882 and mentioned in deeds dating from Garner's purchase of the land and in subsequent sales through 1956.

But the cemetery is not mentioned in the most recent 2002 deed, said Horvath.

When he participated in the Carroll County Genealogical Society's long-running inventory of gravestone inscriptions, he said, "I was told nothing was left of it. They thought the graves had all been moved."

2 calls in past 2 months

But in the past two months, two calls to the historical society prompted Horvath and other members of the graveyard-protection group to look again.

One of the callers was Robert LeRoy Mann, who lived on Cedarhurst Road until 1963, when he was 25.

"We all knew there was a cemetery there" that had "close to one dozen or so stones" two decades ago, when the now-deceased former owner fenced the lot, he said. The tombstones disappeared in the early 1980s, Mann said.

When he heard that a well had been drilled on the site of the old cemetery, Mann called the county and was referred to the historical society.

The other call to the historical society came from Miller, who called when she noticed that the tombstones by her fence had disappeared. Horvath found a Health Department permit dated Oct. 10, 2003, for a reburial at Evergreen Memorial Gardens from an "unknown-unmarked graveyard."

But Miller also said a stack of stones that was once at the rear of the lot also had disappeared, and she recalled two now-deceased neighbors talking about more graves.

"Somewhere out there is somebody connected to that family," said Miller.

One descendant is Rosamond M. Freeman of Rosedale, a genealogy enthusiast who registered her family names and is a member of Carroll's historical society. Flinn Garner and his wife, Cary, were her great-great-great-grandparents.

"I went there many years ago" at the age of 10 or 12, she said. "I remember it was overgrown, 50 years ago, and my mother, Bertha Oursler Martin, bending over and pulling weeds."

Although she wrote a letter to Barnes asking about the removal of remains and grave markers, Freeman said she is satisfied now with the investigation. "It seems to have been done legally."

`It's a shame'

"I just feel it's a shame" that the cemetery was lost, she said.

For the county Health Department, the concern is not graves but boundaries, said Charles L. Zeleski, Carroll's acting director of environmental health.

In an April 27 letter to Plunkert, Zeleski allowed 180 days to resolve the question of ownership of the cemetery or construction approval would be denied.

A deed from 1956 shows the cemetery was excluded from the sale of a proposed building lot, Zeleski wrote.

Now, he said, the question is whether the cemetery is still excluded from the property. If so, he said, the approved layout for the house might have to be changed because it could affect the placement of the well and septic system.

Barnes said he could not comment on his investigation, but that this request is "pretty rare."

He said his experience with cemeteries has involved vandalism or thefts of headstones or remains.

"I don't recall having anything quite like this," Barnes said.

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