- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

Prince George's County officials will hold hearings this month on whether to allow a developer to build on a waterfront parcel in Fort Washington.
Local residents argue, however, the parcel could contain artifacts of an American Indian settlement first documented by Capt. John Smith in 1608.
Clinton-based Land and Commercial Inc. wants to build 23 luxury homes on the 23-acre site, known as Tent Landing. The company already has removed from the site the graves of five members of the Lyles family, one of the county's wealthiest, who owned the property in the late 19th century.
County officials postponed the project last week, however, after the county's chief zoning official urged the Historic Preservation Commission to review the site's status.
Three of the six commission members voted in December 2001 to remove the property from a special status inventory after they determined it wasn't the original Tent Landing. The original site is about a quarter-mile north of where the developer wants to build, the commission said.
Since the beginning, the development has been tangled in legal squabbles with the State's Attorney's Office over removal of the graves and with local residents who want the tract left alone until it's determined whether it has ties to the Civil War.
The residents who live near the property said they want an archaeological study of the site. They claim that, in addition to the American Indian artifacts that still could be buried, the site also might contain the graves of some of the 80 black slaves who worked for the Lyles family.
Documents filed in the County Clerk's Office show that artifacts of American Indians from 4000 B.C. still might be buried at the site, and that Smith documented the remains of the Conoy Indian village Tessamatuck in 1608.
"We consider this tract of land a piece of Americana," said Dawn Davit, president of the Potomac Valley Citizens Association. "We're not opposed to development. We're just opposed to inappropriate development."
Leo Bruso, president of Land and Commercial Inc., argued that an 1878 map of the area shows that Tent Landing was north of the site he wants to develop. "That's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. The hearings "will do nothing to our development."
William M. Shipp, chairman of the historical commission, said the Tent Landing case is on appeal and declined to comment on the case.
The County Council is expected to hear arguments for zoning changes on March 14. The historical commission is expected to hear arguments about restoring historic status to the property on March 24.
Tent Landing is a parcel of land that protrudes into the Potomac River near Broad Creek in Fort Washington. Local historians say the land has historical significance.
A Revolutionary War skirmish occurred there on April 12, 1781, when British soldiers raided the fields of the Landing farm and were stopped by Col. Henry Lyles and his troops. Eleven prisoners were captured, and there were negotiations at the site, local historians said.
"Tent Landing has to be considered a small victory for the Prince Georgians, as the British promised to leave and not come back," historian Phyllis Cox told county officials last month at a zoning hearing.
Dennis Magruder Lyles, a wealthy farmer, owned the property in the 1800s. He ran a fishery on the Potomac and farmed a 500-acre plantation that included Tent Landing. Mr. Lyles died in 1828 at age 35, but his four children all died in 1826. They were buried on the property. Their tombs, covered by raised stones lying horizontally, have stood on a corner of the property by a roadside fence since then.
With the court's permission, Mr. Bruso's company last June dug up the graves and reburied the remains next to family relatives at nearby St. John's Episcopal Church.
Old county maps, however, show a second cemetery on the property, and Ms. Davit suspects that the plot contains the graves of the Lyles' slaves.
But a letter to Mr. Bruso from a mapping official with the U.S. Geological Survey recommended removing the second cemetery from local maps, quoting a county official who said they are mislabeled. What was believed to be a grave marker turned out to be a concrete post used as a gate support, the letter said.
In the 1980s, the Marriott Corp. planned to build a retirement community on the site. A preliminary archaeological investigation found thousands of pieces of pottery believed to have been left by Piscataway-Conoy Indians who lived on the land until the settlers arrived, said David A. Turner, a local historian.
"Native Americans care deeply about this property, which we call Tessamatuck," said Mervin Savoy, chairman of the Piscataway-Conoy Indian Tribe. "We want it preserved because … it was one of the Potomac River's most important Indian trade centers prior to European settlement."
In December 2001, the National Park Service reported that the archaeological investigations were inadequate.
Ms. Davit said she isn't stopping her fight.
"If a place as significant as Tent Landing can be subdivided, then historic preservation rules have become a meaningless shield for saving our diverse heritage," she said.

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