15 graves in Brunswick colonial-era cemetery unearthed

Two weeks into excavation, 15 graves have been unearthed at a colonial-era cemetery on the grounds of the old Glynn Middle School.

15 graves in Brunswick colonial-era cemetery unearthed
After an excavator removed the covering layer of fill dirt where Glynn Middle School once stood, Maurice Butler (left) and Patrick Leggett skimmed the surface, looking for signs of a Colonial-era cemetery [Credit: Terry Dickinson/The Times-Union]
Lifelong Brunswick resident John C. Carter Jr. watched intently Wednesday as the Public Works crew, led by City Manager Bill Weeks, looked for more.

Carter was around when the school was built in 1953, and helped install its electrical wiring.

“I don’t remember any bones being dug up back then,” he said, “but I don’t know if they were really looking, to tell the truth.”

As Weeks examined the smooth surface of the earth Wednesday, he muttered, “Archaeology is reading the dirt.”

As he read the ground, he saw a history of damage to the graves, some during the school’s construction.

Weeks pointed out one that had a water line passing through it. Others may have been damaged when the footings were dug for the cafeteria. None have been found in the ground that was under the building, but its outline juts into the array of unearthed graves.

As a child, Carter played on the site when it was a city park, so he said he was a little amazed to learn what lay just beneath the surface.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and I never knew until now,” he said.

He’s not the only one. The cemetery containing some of Brunswick’s first residents was nearly lost to history. Not much documentary evidence exists, but Brunswick archaeologist Fred Cook suspected it was there. Drawing information from an 1894 report of the installation of a sewer line in the middle of what is now Egmont Street, Cook warned officials to be on the lookout for graves as they demolished the old school.

He pinpointed the area where he expected them to be found and was right on the money.

Weeks, an archaeologist by avocation, discovered the first grave Sept. 6, and he is heading up the excavation with some oversight from Cook.

On Wednesday, Weeks marked each rectangular grave with little green flags mounted on wire rods. Two of the rectangles drew his attention.

“These two right here are either babies or children,” he said. “They’re very small.”

15 graves in Brunswick colonial-era cemetery unearthed
Brunswick City Manager Bill Weeks skims off a layer of earth where Glynn Middle School once stood as he looks for graves in an old cemetery. The pink flags mark where a trench was dug for a water line [Credit: Terry Dickinson/The Times-Union]
Uncovering the graves’ signatures is a time-consuming process. First Public Works heavy equipment operator Roy Poppell skims a foot-thick layer of soil off of the surface. Then Weeks and other Public Works employees use square-point shovels to carefully skim more dirt until they find signs of a grave.

“We’re just taking it off a little bit at the time because we don’t want to get into the vaults,” Weeks said. “We just want to identify the shafts themselves.”

Weeks wasn’t referring to the kind of concrete vaults used today, but just the confines of the holes that were dug more than two centuries ago.

Poppell said he has some experience in cemetery work, just in reverse.

“I used to dig graves,” he said.

Weeks said he expects to find 40 to 50 graves. Some may be across Egmont Street on private land, including a vacant lot. Weeks said excavating the lot would require the permission of the owners, who might not be interested in having a graveyard found on their property.

Egmont is on the west side of the cemetery. Weeks said he doesn’t expect it to extend much farther to the east nor much farther to the north toward Glynn Academy high school. It could, however, go some distance more to the south toward George Street, he said.

George Street bisects what was once a big public square. The southern half is still a shaded green space but the city gave up the northern half so the school board could build Glynn Middle. Brunswick got the park back through a land swap.

“We’ll just keep going until we run out of graves,” but will not disturb any of them, he said.

“City Engineer Dan McFee is going to come out and survey every grave that we find, so that when we cover them back up, we’ll still be able to tell exactly where they are,” Weeks said.

The site eventually will revert to its original use as a park just as it was when Carter played there as a child.

Author: Mike Morrison | Source: The Florida Time Union [September 27, 2012]

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