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Pulte Builds on Cemetery Land in Nashville
Friday, 27 July 2012

1800s family laid to rest once more
Twenty-year-old Sheila Carter was first buried beside her family members in 1889. Dirt and vegetation hid her tombstone until Brentwood homeowner Steve Jones ran over it with his lawn mower two years ago. A team of seven archaeologists is now moving Carter's body and eight others from the Jones' back yard into a small cemetery nearby.
Nashville developer Pulte Homes, formerly Radnor Homes, is paying for the removal of the bodies, an arrangement reached in Chancery Court last month. According to state law, landowners cannot sell land with graves on it without informing the buyer the bodies are there.

1800s family laid to rest once more

Grave

Christopher Hazel photographs the grave of a man who died in the mid-19th century. Hazel, along with Chris Tuvy, top, and Brady Witt, left, of DeVall and Associates, a private archaeology company, prepare the body for reinterment in an adjoining graveyard. (Photos by Bill Steber / Staff)
Bones
Christopher Hazel uses a brush to clean the bones of a woman who died in the mid-19th century.

By Emily Phillips / Staff Writer

Twenty-year-old Sheila Carter was first buried beside her family members in 1889.

Dirt and vegetation hid her tombstone until Brentwood homeowner Steve Jones ran over it with his lawn mower two years ago.

A team of seven archaeologists is now moving Carter's body and eight others from the Jones' back yard into a small cemetery nearby.

The southern tier of Davidson County between Interstates 24 and 65 was once pasture land where residents buried family members on their property. Now it's bursting with commercial and residential development, including the quiet cul-de-sac off Cloverland Drive where the Joneses live.

As they add homes, stores and restaurants to land that had been used only for farming, it's not unusual for developers to find hidden cemeteries like the one where Carter was buried more than a century ago, said State Archaeologist Nick Fielder.

Archaeologists could hear neighborhood kids playing in a nearby pool this week as they worked meticulously with brushes and small paper bags to preserve and remove the skeletons and caskets from 2 feet below the lawn.

The Joneses called Fielder when they found the tombstone. He confirmed that there were bodies buried in their yard and spent a day showing their son's Boy Scout troop how to dig for evidence.

The remains behind the house didn't bother the Jones family. When they bought their house in the early 1990s, they knew of an old graveyard behind the back fence. Catherine Prentis Jones, a former history teacher, said she finds the remains fascinating.

"The bad part is that they do have to be disturbed after all these years."

The need to move bodies to the fenced graveyard arose when the Joneses made plans to landscape their back yard and build a patio.

Fielder said he gets two or three calls a week about graveyard remains, which are common in Middle Tennessee. The remains of 154 native Americans were moved last year to make way for a new Wal-Mart on Charlotte Pike, and 85 graves were moved to build the Brentwood library in 1997.

"What's unusual about this situation is that it was unknown that the graves were actually on this lot," Fielder said.

Nashville developer Pulte Homes, formerly Radnor Homes, is paying for the removal of the bodies, an arrangement reached in Chancery Court last month. According to state law, landowners cannot sell land with graves on it without informing the buyer the bodies are there.

A Pulte Homes representative said in court the company did not know about the graves, some of which were about 7 feet from the Jones house. Calls to Pulte Homes were not returned yesterday afternoon.

Fielder said that if the developer had known about the sites, it would have been illegal to build a house so close to them.

Christopher Hazel, an archaeologist from DuVall & Associates who was helping to remove the bodies, was impressed by how well the skeletons had been preserved in the soft clay behind the Jones' house.

The skeletons lay sprawled on the bottoms of their wooden coffins, which were rotting away below and beside them. Some of the caskets had glass viewing windows, which had shattered across the skull and rib cage. One man was still wearing a decaying bow tie.

Hazel and his team dug carefully through the dirt first with a backhoe, then with trowels and, finally, with brushes and dental picks to inspect the bodies. They stopped frequently to photograph them.

They could tell by the people's decayed teeth that they had a lot of sugar in their diets. Hazel knew from the bone structure whether they had back pain or arthritis, and he could tell by the shapes of the bones that they led vigorous lifestyles or had broken bones.

Hazel said he loves his work because he can rediscover people.

"People that have been forgotten are able, to a certain degree, to say who they are," he said. "Their story's being told."

The Joneses ran classified advertisements looking for relatives of the people in their back yard, but got no response.

But Catherine Prentis Jones said she is interested in finding the remains of Sheila Carter, whose tombstone she and her husband first discovered two years ago.

The day the Joneses and Fielder found the entire stone was July 17 -- the same day Carter died in 1889. Her large, gray tombstone is carved with an ornate flower on the top.

A verse is carved at the bottom: "Asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep, from which none ever wakes to weep."

"She's the one, I want to find her," she said. "She's special."

The Tennessean
http://www.thisweek-online.com/2000/october/27explode.html















 
 
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