Health Sciences Campus

Long-lost cemetery handled with care before work starts on dental school

R. Ward Sutton holds a piece of hardware from the casket of a child at the site of a forgotten graveyard near the planned ECU School of Dentistry. Photo by Doug Boyd
GREENVILLE, N.C.  (Dec. 17, 2008)  —  Before heavy equipment rolls in and starts pounding the ground, a gentler and more meticulous bit of digging had to be done on the site of the new East Carolina University School of Dentistry.

Crews spent several days in mid-December relocating between 40 and 50 graves discovered in an area that will become a parking lot for the new school. The graves were spread over three plots on both sides of MacGregor Downs Road and included graves dating to the early 1900s.

"What the vast majority of the public doesn't realize is these gravesites are everywhere, these abandoned cemeteries are everywhere," said Dr. Charles Ewen, a professor of anthropology at ECU whose students used ground-penetrating radar to assist in locating the graves. "There are hundreds of these things in eastern North Carolina."

ECU discovered the cemetery in the spring and spent the past six months determining its size, the number of graves and developing a relocation plan. The Greenville City Council approved relocating the remains to Homestead Memorial Gardens. ECU contracted the work of identifying the bodies in the graveyard and seeking family members as well as disinterring, transporting and reburying the remains to R. Ward Sutton Cemetery Services of Rocky Mount.

Graves included those of adults and children. Most of the identified remains were from the Forbes family.

Ewen said the university and Sutton's company had done a thorough job to make sure as many graves as possible were identified, families notified and the remains carefully moved.

Utility work for the school should begin in early 2009, and the school is scheduled to open in 2011.

Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2482