Since the 1920s, the swatch of green near the intersection of Chestnut and Mulberry streets in Jeffersonville has been a city park, a place where hundreds of people have played softball.
On Thursday, officials disclosed that those games apparently were taking place on long-forgotten graves, including some that may have dated to the Civil War.
“It’s kind of disheartening,” said Dan Fleshman, a Parkview Middle School teacher who played softball at Colston Park, also known as Playsquare, in the 1990s.
“You find out you’re playing on something that shouldn’t have been there in the first place, it makes you feel uneasy,” he said.
Remnants of the cemetery were discovered Thursday as archaeologist Mindi Wetzel investigated the area because the city is considering building a convention center on the site, which is just west of the planned route of a ramp from the Big Four pedestrian bridge.
In center field, Wetzel showed a reporter a mostly buried leg bone and arm bone she found Thursday morning. She also pointed out the darker coloring of the soil, in the shape of an elongated hexagon, made by the disintegration of a wooden casket.
Such a distinctive shape, and the rusted fragments of old, square nails at the corners of the hexagon suggest the casket was made in the early to mid-19th century and possibly earlier, said Wetzel, who works for Louisville-based Corn Island Archaeology.
Later in the day, another burial was found in the same area, said Anne Bader, principal owner of Corn Island Archaeology.
A fragment of a bone toothbrush, also likely to date from the 19th century, also was found in the outfield, Bader said. And a tiny ivory end-piece of a household item — perhaps a quill pen — a pig’s tooth and broken white ceramics were found in the infield area, she said.
Clark County Historian Jeanne Burke said she believes as many as 300 people could have been buried at the site at one time. She said that she had long believed the Old Town Cemetery had been located in the area but had no proof, even after earlier excavations.
“I’m pleased to have it confirmed,” she said.
Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan said the discovery will not have any effect on development in the area. As outgoing mayor, he does not know if the convention center plan will proceed but he said the graves could be relocated or protected if necessary.
“This won’t affect anything,” he said.
He added earlier excavations on the east and west sides of the park found nothing that would disrupt plans for the Big Four ramp or for the approach to a planned vehicle bridge over the Ohio River near its west side, Galligan said.
Burke said that documents she’s seen indicate that remains from the city’s oldest cemetery, which was near the Ohio River and dated to the 1780s, were moved to the Old Town Cemetery early in the 1800s because the site of the older cemetery was needed for another purpose, Burke said.
She thinks the Old Town Cemetery was in use until 1862 and at one time may have contained Civil War burials that the army may have moved after the war. There are even are suggestions the remains of a man who fought in the Revolutionary War were in the Old Town Cemetery, she said.
Burke said the cemetery was closed, apparently because it was full, in 1862 and later became overgrown. It became a city park in the 1920s, she said.
Cathy Draeger-Williams, an archaeologist with the state’s Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, said the discoveries could illuminate “important history for the city.”
She added that state law requires a 100-foot buffer of undisturbed ground to be maintained around such a site — or the remains can be moved to another location with proper oversight.
At the ballfield, the archaeologists filled in their outfield excavation Thursday afternoon to protect it. Corn Island archaeologists Nicole Coomer and Dave Schatz said they will continue to make a series of smaller, shovel excavations every 50 feet across the field to determine the cemetery’s boundaries.
The work is likely to take several weeks, she said.
Bader said nothing of monetary value has been found and she hopes the public will respect the burials and the history of the site and leave it alone.
City employees fenced in the area in which the archaeologists were working Thursday, and police will be watching it, Galligan said.
If anyone is found in the area, he said, “they will be arrested” because it’s a felony to disturb such a site.
Galligan said it is too early to decide what will be done with the site other than to protect it.
“It was always a fun place to play,” Fleshman said.
Edited by HoundDog, 01 December 2011 - 07:52 PM.