- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The Lafayette County Planning Commission has halted further development on a site located in Lafayette Springs due to graves found on the west side of the land.

“We have stopped any more work where the graves have been found on the west side of the property and tabled it until the next meeting,” said T.J. Ray, president of the Lafayette County Planning Commission. “We gave the OK to still continue (development) on the east side.”

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors has approved the portion of the Welch Farms development project that does not involve the cemetery.

The 141 acres of land located off of County Road 251 is owned by James “Woody” Welch and is being developed by Welch and his friend, Jack Macadoo, into 16 lots of mini farms. The builders, who have named their project Welch Farms, hope to have the development completed by mid- summer.

The residential lots will range anywhere from 3 to 16 acres apiece.

However, the site located on the west side of CR 251 is also home to the Jones Family Cemetery, in which 11 people are buried, according to Lafayette County Historical and Genealogical Society cemetery records.

Welch has offered to move the grave stones, markers, artifacts and human remains to a cement container that would be located about 20 yards from the cemetery’s original site. Welch has also proposed that he will provide bronze markers for those buried in the cemetery whose markers have been destroyed or decayed. The entire container would then be enclosed by an iron fence.

Some neighbors have expressed their concerns about the removal of the graves.

“Everybody buried down there is someone’s child or brother or sister,” said Jim Gates, who lives near the cemetery. “It’s unholy. This is one of the last historical landmarks left here and to me it’s a historical place. A lot of people that live here are equally upset about it. It’s not just me.”

Allen Sullivan, who lives about a mile from the site, has similar concerns about removing the graves.

“He (Welch) is doing something that I don’t agree with at all,” Sullivan said. “He said that he cannot find any living relatives of those that have been buried, but it doesn’t matter if he can or can’t find them or not; it’s a cemetery and it’s not right. I don’t agree with it in any way, shape, form or fashion.”

However, Macadoo and Welch see their plans to relocate and improve the cemetery as providing a service to the unincorporated community.

“The cemetery was pretty atrocious when we got there,” Macadoo said. “It had been in disrepair for almost 100 years. We want to make it a landmark. We know there is a lot of history there and we see this as an opportunity to take something that is destroyed and make it something that residents can be proud of.”

Macadoo said he welcomes any known family members of the deceased or anyone who knows the history of the site to come forward.

Welch said he wants to take all the proper precautions when relocating the graves so that others may visit the site for years to come. He also claimed their development project will enhance the area.

“Whatever we do, we will do it in respect,” Welch said. “We will have a coroner instructing us on what to do. When I get through with (the project), it will be first class. All homes will have to go through architectural reviews. To tell you the truth, I might build a home for myself on the site where the graves were located. It’s a beautiful view.”

Welch has submitted a petition to the Lafayette County Chancery Court to move the graves, but relocating a cemetery can’t be done easily in Mississippi, according to local and state officials.

“It (the removal of graves) is not something that we recommend be done, but it can be done along with the proper legislation and procedures,” Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Ken P’Pool said.

Since the cemetery is a private family plot and was abandoned, it does not have a certificate from the state as a historical site and therefore cannot be protected by Lafayette County. However, disturbing graves can be considered a criminal act so chancery court officials may look at these laws when determining the validity of moving the human remains.

Oxford-Lafayette Heritage Foundation’s Jim Pryor said that he has never dealt with any relocation of a graveyard. However, if the neighbors want to provide him with more information about the cemetery, he said he would see whether some sort of historic designation or certification for the graveyard could be obtained. No decisions have been made on certification at this time.

Those buried in the cemetery range from infants to the elderly. One of those buried in the small graveyard is a Civil War soldier, Frank H. Jones. While Jones died during the years of the war, his cause of death is unknown. Those buried in the cemetery have last names of Jones, York, Hamilton and Davis, but most are from the Jones family.

All graves of children have been marked with stones, but parents’ graves have been marked with petrified wood. One grave is unidentified, only having been marked with bricks. In the Skipwith records of 1978, the York family identified a few family members’ graves in the cemetery.


Information from: Oxford Eagle, https://www.oxfordeagle.com

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