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New Home for Old Graves

New interchange may force relocation of 200-year-old cemetery.

The remains of early Herndon and Loudoun area residents with birthdates stretching as far back as the early 18th century are likely to be relocated from their Loudoun County resting place to Herndon's Chestnut Grove cemetery within the next month.

Provided the proposed move gets final legal approval in Loudoun County this Friday, the remains, some buried nearly 200 years ago, will be relocated to the town-owned cemetery within a matter of weeks, according to officials working on the project. The project drew a step closer towards completion last week on Tuesday when the Herndon Town Council voted unanimously to change the cemetery regulations to allow placing the remains in Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

The Kilgour/Hummer Cemetery, a burial site established in the early 1800s that measures approximately a half acre, is located at the intersection of Route 28 and Nokes Boulevard in Loudoun County. It is being relocated using collective public and private funds as a result of a partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and associated private organizations to add an interchange to the roads.

The project has an estimated price tag of about $100,000, according to Andy Williams, project manager for VDOT.

When the move takes place, slated to happen before the end of February, the remains of as many as 40 people will be removed by morticians and transported to special burial vaults that will be placed in Chestnut Grove Cemetery. Due to spotty historical records and the fact that burial sites and remains are very old and at an advanced stage of decomposition, no specific identities of individuals buried there are known, with the exception of George Kilgour and his wife Martina Bailey, who were buried there in the early 19th century.

THE STATE DEPARTMENT of Historical Resources working alongside historians from James Madison University in Harrisonburg determined that the site was not historical and could be relocated prior to planning the project, according to Williams. The cemetery was declared abandoned by county officials back in 1962, he added.

But legal obligations, paired with a desire to see the remains respectfully honored after working with descendents of those buried at Kilgour/Hummer was what brought the project to fruition. The descendents had specifically requested the sites to be moved to Chestnut Grove Cemetery, Williams said.

Once the move is complete, a collective headstone that tells the story of the former cemetery will be placed in Chestnut Grove.

SUCH BURIAL RELOCATIONS are not uncommon in an area with a deep-rooted history of settlements that is seeing an explosion of development in recent decades, said Williams. VDOT has taken part in the replacement of about 10 cemeteries in the last 10 years in Northern Virginia, the most taking place in Fairfax and Prince William counties, he added.

In the case of Kilgour/Hummer, the process of moving the remains in an orderly fashion will need to utilize professional scientific assistance to determine where bodies are, as there are little to no headstones or markers left.

Due to advancements in archaeological technology, the process of removing the remains to be placed in specific containers for reinterment is astonishingly accurate, Williams said. An archaelogical team from College of William & Mary in Williamsburg will assist in locating the specific sites.

"It's really amazing what they can do," Williams said. "After they clear the area, you will actually be able to see the complete outline of where the specific grave shafts are."

Morticians will then use modern equipment to dig to the general depth of the bodies before removing any remains by hand and placing them in individual containers for transportation and reinterment.

No priests or religious representatives will be present unless requested by descendants, Williams said.

THIS IS NOT the first time that Chestnut Grove Cemetery has accepted remains from relocated burial grounds, according to Mike Moore, the town's cemetery manager. During the construction of nearby Dulles International Airport in the 1950s, graves on the property were exhumed and relocated to Chestnut Grove, he said.

The adjustments made to the cemetery's regulations will likely put Herndon in a better position to accept more relocated grave sites as development is expected to continue in the coming years, Moore said.

"I imagine that with as many roads that are being built in this county that somebody will need a grave site relocation sooner or later," he said. This relocation "is not harmful to the cemetery and its certainly a need of the community, so I felt that this is a good way to use our resources."

Moving the remains that are forced to relocate as a result of increased development is an important endeavor, Williams said.

"We're all human beings and we all feel like we want to be respectful to each other," he said. "For that, it's been really important for us to do this."