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Return to the Grave

After being accidentally exhumed 20 years ago, long-dead man to be reburied in January.

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This headstone was uncovered from the Bloxham family cemetery in 1989, and it will become part of a future interpretation of the graveyard as part of a future city park.

One day in 1989, a team of archeological consultants was testing a site near the southwest corner of the intersection at Telegraph Road and Duke Street when they made a shocking discovery. Peering over the edge of their earth-mover, the archeologists saw parts of a human skeleton and an old beaten up headstone. The shocking discovery halted development plans in the area, and the developers paid for an osteological analysis of the remains and a genealogical investigation of the family members who may have been buried there. The developer eventually scuttled its plans and sold the property, but nothing was ever done with the skeleton, and the bones sat in a storage unit waiting for someone to make a decision.

Now — almost 20 years after being accidentally exhumed — the long-dead man will be reburied by the city government, which has acquired the property and plans to interpret the Bloxham family cemetery as part of an upcoming park.

"Now that we are the stewards of this property, we want to do the right thing and put him back in the ground," said City Archeologist Pam Cressy.

THE BLOXHAM FAMILY cemetery holds historical significance in a little-known settlement that was once known as West End, which was then well beyond the western boundaries of Alexandria. The heart of the community was a tavern owned by Samuel Catts, which served as a polling place during elections and a community center of sorts where political meetings would take place. Land near the tavern was purchased for 310 pounds by James Bloxham in the 1790s, shortly after he emigrated from England.

When the Bloxhams moved to West End, it was a bustling center of commerce and light industry. The settlement had tanneries, potteries, a distillery and a glass factory. To the north, the Little River Turnpike was under construction. Little is known about the Bloxhams, but land records show they owned the land from the 1790s to the 1860s. The property then was sold to a succession of owners before being acquired in 1920s by Fruit Growers Express, which used the land to manufacture, maintain and repair refrigerated rail cars. The 1989 testing that uncovered the skeleton was conducted by CSX, which owned the land at the time. But the area now belongs to the city government, which plans to interpret the Bloxham family graveyard as part of the Witter Street Recreation Complex.

"We’re going to make it a passive area," said Kirk Kincannon, director of the city’s Department of Recreation. "It will be in a park-like setting."

CURRENT PLANS for the proposed complex call for the cemetery to be sandwiched between a softball field and a soccer field. City officials hope to install a gate around the 12 bodies that are buried there, and two signs will tell the story of the Bloxham family and the uncovered skeleton that spent two decades in storage. The identity of the skeleton remains a mystery, although an archeological consultant working on the project identified six possibilities.

"The answer here is somewhat fuzzy because they could belong to any of the Bloxham/Whaley family males who were A) not interred elsewhere; or B) were not moved from the cemetery in 1927 when United Fruit Growers acquired the property and began to develop it," wrote Martha Williams, an archeologist who conducted part of the research behind the city’s investigation of the family cemetery. "The associated families known to have been buried in the cemetery include Bloxham, Whaley, Fox (a Whaley daughter), Gibbons (a Whaley granddaughter) and Dove."

Whoever he was, city officials plan to return him to the cemetery on Jan. 16.