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Wake County development turning up old graves

Posted January 8, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— Developers in Wake County have made some surprising finds: grave sites that date back as far as the 1700s.

The county typically holds three hearings a year – substantially more than five years ago – to ask the public what do with newly-discovered, old graveyards, planning officials say.

Developers make grave finds in Wake County Developers make grave finds in Wake County

The presence of such unexpected graveyards stems from regional burial practices, said archaeologists who specialize in cemeteries.

"Down here in the South, there's a tradition of being buried on the family farmstead," John Clauser, consulting archaeologist for Of Grave Concerns, Inc., said.

The cemeteries are usually small, containing less than a dozen graves. But as development reaches further into rural areas, experts said, more cemeteries will be found.

"As the farmsteads are broken up and these things become abandoned, there's nobody to take care of them. They do disappear, and developers discover them," Clauser said.

Clauser said he wasn't surprised at the discovery of five old graves in the Turner Downs subdivision, although for residents, it was the last thing they expected to be in their neighborhood.

"You'd walk over and never know it was a cemetery," Clauser said. "The fact is we're running out of development space, and any place that is open probably has a cemetery in it – which is probably why it wasn't developed in the first place."

Nearby residents said they hope their newly found deceased get treated well.

"They should be cared for. They're somebody's relatives," resident Rick McKenna said.

Developers who find grave sites on their property face three options: preserve the site, contact the surviving family and let them handle the site, or remove and re-intern the graves.

"They're moved to a cemetery that's got long-term care, a church cemetery, a public cemetery," Clauser said. "These poor people are being moved, and perpetual care is the best we can do."

Moving old cemeteries requires a lengthy process that can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per grave. Developers must advertise the plans in newspapers and hold public hearings, and ultimately, the county commissioners get to decide the graves' fate. A certified specialist, such as Clauser, must oversee the physical process of moving the graves.

The care needed to identify and appropriately move the graves keeps him in business, Clauser said.

"The first things we look for are depressions in the soil or round field stones placed on the grace," he said. "That's why I have a job – because not everyone can recognize it."

In the case of the Turner Downs graves, the developer decided to remove the graves. A public hearing will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 20 in Room 700 of the Wake County Courthouse, 316 Fayetteville St.

Turner Downs residents said they hope the process results in a good resting place for their deceased.

"They were flesh and blood at one point. To just leave them there, that's not right," McKenna said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Jan 9, 2009

    Developers Greed...

  • wmhs Jan 9, 2009

    Try this angle,,, Your fathers father owned and farmed a large track of family owned land owned back hundreds of years. some living well below poverty level. worked entire lives farming this dirt. only wish is to be buried in that family dirt together and forever. developer present day buys the land finds these graves by law has to address the issue(not his good deed)Will do whatever he has to to get the bodies off his profits because if they stay on land it will kill his development. development owners freakin out dont want dead bodies in the hood move em out. This is wrong on all levels and should be federal laws in place to keep someones last wishes intact. Karma, what goes around comes around.

  • bigredtruckman Jan 9, 2009

    I have to hand it to the developers who actually take the time to do something about these abandoned grave yards. Think of the number of graves that are NOT reported by developers because of the expense involved in moving them. I'm sure there are houses in the Triangle right now sitting on top of graveyards that the builder simply covered over.

    I have no problem moving the graves. These people were buried thinking that their grave sites would be cared for in perpetuity. Obviously they were not. Were this my grave or that of a relative, I would rather have it disturbed and moved to a place where it would be cared for than have it sit unattended inside some anonymous cookie cutter subdivision.

    That said, I agree with the other comments. I would rather be cremated and my atoms scattered back to nature than rot in a grave that will just take up space.

  • icmfal Jan 9, 2009

    You can always do mass cremations and scatter the ashes.

    That would be all I want when I die. cremate me and just dump the ashes in ocean.

  • Iworkforaliving Jan 9, 2009

    Let's be eco friendly and start disposing of bodies in the ocean for the fish to eat instead of wasting good land stockpiling bodies. If we're cremated, it'll just add to the pollution problem we already have. Just make sure you dump them far enough out to sea and weighted down some so they don't wash up on shore.

  • Adelinthe Jan 8, 2009

    There most likely isn't a single inch of ground on earth on which someone hasn't died or been buried.

    Still, when one has received a burial, they expect to stay where they are put.

    When developers find graves, the ground should be left undeveloped, regardless of how much ground that entails.

    To do anything else is not only greedy, it's uncivilized.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • LaLa-Land Jan 8, 2009

    I think the people (in the ground) should stay where they where are.

  • LocalYokel Jan 8, 2009

    if you don't move the graves we all know what happens...poltergeist