Sunday, October 3, 2004

Preservationists want to protect old cemeteries

By Brenna R. Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

BURLINGTON - When Debra Kaye went to put flowers on her ancestor's grave near a small church in rural Boone County it was gone.

The grave and at least 11 others had been dug up and moved to two mass graves.

The 110-year-old South Fork Christian Church was also gone, torn down in favor of a new church.

"It's sad when you can't show your grandchildren where their roots are because it's been destroyed," Kaye said.

Now Kaye and a cemetery preservation group want to protect the county's other historic cemeteries.

"I don't want it to happen to anyone else," said Kaye, who drove eight hours from her Georgia home last week to tell Boone County officials her story. "

At a Fiscal Court meeting, Kaye and Jan Garbett, president of the cemetery group, asked the county to form a cemetery preservation task force.

"The South Fork issue is just one incident - one of great concern - but it's just continuing with a pattern in Boone County. When a cemetery is in the way, they move it," said Garbett of Burlington.

The task force would assess the needs of cemeteries, compile records and educate the community about historic cemeteries.

Garbett said her group, Johnson-Wilson Cemetery Stewards Association, would be willing to work with the county's Historic Preservation Review Board to form the task force.

Judge-executive Gary Moore said the county is concerned about historic preservation.

"Our cemeteries are a vital part of our history, of our county," Moore said.

Moore told Garbett to attend the Oct. 14 meeting of the county's Historic Preservation Review Board so that all parties could discuss a task force.

But even a cemetery task force probably could not have prevented what happened at South Fork. The church went through the state Department of Vital Statistics to get permits to move 12 graves within the same cemetery.

Kaye argues that the remains were not reburied in the cemetery but on a hill that had not been a cemetery. And that the remains were reburied in two mass graves instead of individually.

Also, Kaye says there were 19 graves at the cemetery, two remain and 12 were moved, leaving five unaccounted for.

"I feel like my roots have been destroyed," Kaye said. "That's why I'm so upset."

Church minister Bob Hightchew and Boone County Coroner Doug Stith have said all state regulations were followed.

To report a concern about a Boone County cemetery go to


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