Men and women dressed in hard hats and short sleeve T-shirts stood around the edges of Kilgour-Hummer Burying Ground Tuesday, April 3, and watched a bulldozer uncover the remains of graves that date back more than 200 years ago.
The Kilgour-Hummer Burying Ground is the future site of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Route 28/Nokes Boulevard Interchange project.
Andy Williams, a project administrator for VDOT, spent several months supervising the Public/Private Transportation Act Project between the transportation department and engineering firm Dewberry & Davis LLC, along with Clark Construction Group Inc. and Shirley Contracting Company LLC. The remains will be relocated to the Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Herndon.
BEFORE THE ROUTE 28 Interstate Project took shape, VDOT researched the Kilgour-Hummer Burying Ground.
Researchers found that James Madison University (JMU) completed study on the Sterling cemetery in the 1960s, to determine whether or not the site was a historical landmark.
The cemetery was named after George Kilgour, a mill operator, who owned the land in 1770. Over the years, it was passed down to his daughter, Martena Kilgour, who passed it down to her son, George Hummer. The burying ground was used over a 114-year period, from 1770 to 1884.
JMU presented its findings, which reported 40 graves to the Virginia Department of Historical Resources (VDHR) for review. The VDHR determined the cemetery was not a historic one because it did not meet the criteria and a court order legally declared the Kilgour-Hummer Burying Ground to be an abandoned cemetery in 1962.
Despite the ruling, VDOT pursued court approval to relocate the cemetery to Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Herndon.
VDOT hired a lawyer to represent the descendents of the deceased and completed a similar study to James Madison University’s report over the past few weeks.
A TEAM OF archeologists from the College of William and Mary spent two weeks on site. First they located the graves, mapped them on graph paper and marked them with orange flags.
Williams spent several afternoons with the archeologists. He asked them questions and picked their brains about what they thought life might have been like 200 years ago.
Williams, a 40-year employee of VDOT, spent the past 10 years working on the removal of graves from cemeteries and the legal aspects that go hand in hand with such a process.
He’s picked some things up along the way.
"See that, that’s periwinkle," he said in the field. "That’s one of the first signs I look for when I look for an old cemetery."
Periwinkle was used back then, Williams said, because it’s a ground cover, and it doesn’t grow as fast as grass, so they didn’t have to maintain it as often.
Next he pointed to a path between to sets of trees that outlined the old cemetery.
"Right there, that might be an old wagon trail," he said.
The archeologists agreed it might be an old wagon trail due to the size of the gap between the trees and the level of the land.
"A wagon could’ve fit right through there," Williams said.
The archeologists did not find much remains left but found out some interesting things about the cemetery along the way.
The way the graves lined up suggested Kilgour-Hummer Cemetery was a Christian burial ground.
Back then, the heads of the deceased would be placed facing west because Christians believe Christ will rise again from the east.
"When Christ returns from the east they will be facing him," Williams said.
MIKE MOORE, the manager of Chestnut Grove Cemetery, said the 47 graves will be taken to a funeral home first, then to the Herndon cemetery in about a week.
Moore said he has been a part of similar projects through out his career, but this is only the second time the Chestnut Grove Cemetery has taken in remains from another site. He worked at the cemetery when they received remains from another site located near Dulles Airport.
The College of William and Mary will prepare a report for VDOT, the VDHR and the descendents of anyone buried at the Kilgour-Hummer Burying Grounds.
VDOT will erect a monument at the Chestnut Grove Cemetery to memorialize the bodies removed from the Sterling cemetery. The memorial will read: "Here lie the remains of those formerly buried at the Kilgour-Hummer burial ground, which was located on the old Kilgour Mill Road near Broad Run, not far from present day Sterling. George Kilgour (1740-1818), his wife Martina Bailey (1741-1815), and their Fox, Sheid, and Hummer descendants were also buried there. The remains were moved to this site by the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2007."