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BELVILLE—Fifteen gravesites discovered behind Belville Elementary School won’t be moved anytime soon.
The gravesites were discovered in September when a Wilmington developer began clearing a 166-acre tract near the school and petitioned county commissioners to move the graves to a new location.
But after residents’ fervent opposition to moving the gravesites, commissioners denied the developer’s petition.
The developer, Hawkeswater III, petitioned the county to move the gravesites to a different location under N.C. General Statute 65-105.
“Removal of graves, provides that any person, firm, or corporation who owns the land on which an abandoned cemetery is located may disinter, remove and reinter the graves after first obtaining the consent of the governing body having jurisdiction over the site,” the general statue states.
The developer’s attorney Charles Baldwin said the gravesites were not listed on any public records.
State law permits gravesites to be moved by people other than next of kin if a written certificate is filed with the register of deeds, the developer incurs all expenses and if they are moved under the supervision of the health director, Baldwin said.
“It’s a very short distance from where it is now,” Baldwin said, noting the new cemetery would have a wrought-iron fence surrounding it.
Based on the coffins’ hardware, the graves were likely from the late 19th century or early 20th century, he said.
Baldwin described the graves as very shallow, and said the new cemetery would be marked and preserved.
Historian Heather Jones said the gravesites are not eligible for the National Register of Historic Place.
“It’s not ideal for the preservation of a cemetery,” Jones said about the graves’ current location.
“It would be beneficial and completely allowable for these graves to be moved,” she said.
But several residents did not agree on the benefits of moving the graves.
Glenn Kye, president of the Brunswick County Historical Society, asked commissioners to “let them sleep where they now lie.”
“We oppose the relocation of the graves. Fencing and reburial can be done now. It should be preserved in its place,” Kye said. “We can’t forget where we come from, or where our heritage is, or where these people came from.”
Cliff Williams told board members he also opposed moving the graves.
“They paved the way for you and I. It was them that worked in the tobacco fields and the cornfields. It’s up to us to protect them,” Williams said. “It’s just wrong. It’s morally wrong. Put a fence around it right where it’s at.”
Planning director Leslie Bell said the planning staff would “work with the developer to show good faith to keep the cemetery intact where it is.”
David Holden said he was an area native, whose family moved to the county in 1756.
“The first generation was buried in a cemetery in Holden Beach, which was bulldozed for development. Very late in the process the area was preserved, but massive destruction was done to the tombs,” Holden said. “I think it’s morally wrong to move cemeteries, unless it’s a compelling public need.
“It denigrates our values; it denigrates our humanitarian values,” he added.
After the public hearing was closed, commissioner Bill Sue moved to approve the developer’s petition.
“They’ve jumped through all the hoops. They’ve followed all the state laws,” Sue said. “Nobody has stepped forward to claim kinship to any of those folks out there, and it’s going to be a better cemetery than what they’ve got.”
Sue was the only commissioner in favor of approving the developer’s petition.
“I understand everything you’re saying,” commissioner May Moore responded. “And I have mixed feelings, but I really would rather that it be undisturbed, so I’m gonna have to oppose the petition.”
The vote failed three votes to one.
When contacted on Tuesday, Baldwin had no comment about the petition’s denial.