“Truth is, I had no idea there was a cemetery down there,” Charlottesville Historic Preservation and Design Planner Jeff Werner said. “Friends have said, ‘well, a lot of people lived here, and they have to be buried somewhere.’”
The area was once home to the Gilmer, Craven, and Hotopp families. Werner’s research started to take shape after he says he was contacted by a member of the Gilmer family about the condition of that particular parcel of land.
“Asked some folks, and what popped up was the burials outside the wall as the intriguing story. We know who’s within the walls and within the fence, it was the question marks outside the wall that I started asking about,” Werner said.
Werner also asked some archaeologists to look into it: “When they came over here and looked, they were… they kept using the words ‘very suspicious,’” he recalled. “Six to eight elongated depressions all oriented east west in a row. They said gophers don't dig holes like that, and trees don't fall like that.”
Charlottesville has allocated nearly $10,000 and hired an archaeology firm to use ground-penetrating radar to find out what lies below.
Werner and others want to find out for certain to make sure they are appropriately identified.
“Given the information we have, and given what we know and familiarity with how these sites operate, if burial shafts are found, it is a very high likelihood that they were of enslaved individuals,” He said. “We're prepared - should the evidence indicate burials - that we do the right thing: to at the very least respect the fact that humans are buried in a place right now that is not identified.”
It’s important to note that Charlottesville is not talking about exhuming or fully excavating anything at this site. If experts do find evidence of grave shafts, then the city will work with the Historic Resources Committee to discuss recommendations to appropriately identify this area and make sure it is not disturbed.