Monday, February 13, 2006
2002 Story Recalls How Mason Saga Began
By Claudia Johnson
The relocation of a 19th century cemetery is underway in Giles County to make way for the future.
When Giles County began work on its Industrial Park South project, the Mason Cemetery was identified in an overgrown clump of trees on Amos Hamlett Road. Containing 22 grave stones in various states of disrepair, it had been abandoned and neglected. According to existing markers, the earliest burial was Henry Scales in 1839 and the last was Thomas Kellum in 1875. The oldest person was James Payne, who was born in 1771 and died in 1846.
Giles County Economic Development Director Robert Barnes said the existence of the 200-foot by 150-foot cemetery within the 45 acre industrial site began to present a problem. An initial survey was completed when Wal-Mart was eyeing the area for a possible distribution center.
“We had three industries who were looking for a large site,” Barnes said, explaining that correctly moving a cemetery takes time. “No company wants to wait a year for it.”
That’s why the industrial board decided to relocate the cemetery some 1,000 feet northwest to the corner of the industrial property. State laws protecting burial sites is very stringent, so following proper procedures is vitally important. Individuals with an interest in the cemetery had to located and contacted with respondents falling into three groups.
“The largest group said, ‘Thanks for the info, but we do not care to be involved,’” Barnes reported. “Another group encouraged the move. A few people were upset.”
Court orders and disinterment permits were obtained earlier this year, and archeologists are now conducting a methodical and well-documented move, which is expected to take several weeks.
The project is being coordinated by Dan Allen of DuVall and Associates. Allen holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with minors in archeology and history from Middle Tennessee State University, where he graduated with honors. He is currently a 2002 graduate candidate for master’s degree in history with an emphasis in cultural resource management.
He is a member of a number of state and regional archeological conferences and societies and has been involved in cemetery restorations and improvements and various historic sites across the state. He’s handled eleven major historic cemetery disinterments and relocations involving several hundred graves. More than 200 remains have been removed and relocated at prehistoric cemetery sites under Allen.
He has been the director for three years at the Summer Archaeology Camp at Belle Meade Plantation and for five years he served as Assistant Field Director, Middle Tennessee State University Archaeological Field School at Bledsoe's Fort in Sumner County.
Allen calls his craft “applied archeology,” explaining that he applies science to cemeteries while at the same time using his intuition and experience. Among the initial steps in relocating a cemetery are inventorying of the stones, identifying the location of each marked and unmarked grave and determining a cemetery’s true legal boundary as established by the Tennessee Code Annotated, which creates a 10 foot buffer zone around each grave.
Extensive documentation is created and maintained throughout the process. Allen and a crew of archeologists are on the site this week. The stones are labeled and have all been moved to the new cemetery site. A backhoe, which Allen is operating himself, is being used to scrape away one to two inches of soil so that the each grave shaft is exposed. After that, it’s hand tools only with one archeologist assigned to each grave.
Pulaski Publishing will continue this series as the cemetery removal progresses.
-staff photos by Claudia Johnson
Archeologists are now conducting a methodical and well-documented move of the Mason Cemetery, a 19th Century family burial plot believed to contain two dozen graves, from the middle of the new industrial park. Expected to take several weeks, the project will remove each marker and all grave contents to a designated area just off Amos Hamlett Road.