A solitary grave on land slated for development has raised an unforeseen obstacle for a local homebuilder.
Mechanicsville builder Rogers-Chenault Inc. has filed an application with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for a permit to relocate an unmarked grave found on land that is planned for a 68-home subdivision.
The 42-acre project, called Summerduck Farm, is currently under construction at 9581 Atlee Station Road.
The grave was discovered behind an outbuilding on the former farm property, which was rezoned last fall to a single-family residential district at the request of the E. Tyree Chappell estate. Summer Duck Company LLC owns the property.
Rogers-Chenault plans to build 68 single-family homes with a minimum size of 1,800 square feet. Homes will range from $400,000 to $600,000, according to signage posted on-site.
Terry Cave of Rogers-Chenault is applying for the permit with assistance from Lyle Browning of Midlothian-based archaeology firm Browning & Associates. Cave said the grave was discovered during site work and was obvious to workers due to fencing surrounding it.
Excavated topsoil revealed a discoloration that Browning said is an indicator of a possible gravesite. That the site did not include additional graves was a surprise, he said.
“It’s very unusual to find a single grave,” Browning said. “Normally, you’ll see maybe one headstone and four or five depressions, and then you know you’ve got extra (graves) in there, as would be fairly normal.
“In this case, there were no other graves there, which corresponded with the family history.”
Browning researched that history, along with census data and other records dating back more than a century, to determine the grave’s likely occupant: William H. Timberlake, who according to Browning’s research was born circa 1820 and died sometime between 1880 – the last census that included him – and 1900.
Browning’s research revealed Timberlake was a farmer and Confederate war veteran who never married or had children.
State law allows for the relocation of graves if the proposal meets certain requirements. Public notice is required, as is a comment period, which in this case closes on Oct. 2.
Should the state approve a permit, Browning said he would work with family members and others to identify an acceptable relocation site. A burial service would also be performed.
Browning said he has coordinated numerous grave relocations – at least five in the past year, he said – since starting his business locally in the late 1970s. He said over the years developers have become more careful about properly addressing discovered graves.
“Unfortunately, a lot of cemeteries are out there that have not been recorded. That always affects things,” he said. “And unfortunately, there have been cases of people bulldozing cemeteries out of the way, and people build houses on them and then later somebody’s digging up something and comes across a whole human burial.
“Doing the right thing is what we always, obviously, advise people to do, because it’s a quite hefty, nasty little business if you get caught doing something like that on the illegal side of it.”
Cave said the additional time and expense to apply for the permit and potentially relocate the grave has not adversely affected the project, which he said remains on schedule for completion next spring. Browning said the overall cost to relocate the grave could total between $4,000 and $5,000.
Summerduck Farm is the latest residential project Rogers-Chenault is pursuing in Hanover County. It has previously announced plans to build 130 townhomes for residents 55 years and older on Bell Creek Road, and it is currently caught up in a lawsuit against the town of Ashland regarding plans for nearly 200 homes just west of its central business district.