Dublin to preserve cemetery for Blacks that might predate Civil War

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
This graphicshows the location of the Brown-Harris Cemetery that might predate the Civil War. The cemetery is believed to include the 19th-century graves of Black residents ofWashingtonTownship.

A 19th-century cemetery for Black residents of Washington Township could be opened to the public as an historic site in Dublin in summer 2022.

Dublin officials discovered the Brown-Harris Cemetery – which includes about 20 graves – on a parcel near the future Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center campus while preparing for development in Dublin's West Innovation District, and they are taking steps to preserve the site, said public-affairs officer Lindsay Weisenauer.

The site is south of U.S Route 33 and across from OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital.

The cemetery is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, Weisenauer said.

The area has been the subject of previous research.

In 2004, a local historian recorded an archaeological site with the State Historic Preservation Office after discovering a headstone for a 12-year-old boy who had been buried in 1854, Weisenauer said.

The historian's find led archaeologists to investigate the possibility of a cemetery.

Weisenauer said historical records indicate the cemetery is on land owned from the mid-1800s to 1915 by the Browns, a Black family who lived in Washington Township.

According to a June 9 memo to Dublin City Council members, the city will provide a path to access the cemetery along with a wall or fence and a sign.

City staff members are determining the project schedule and budget. The work would be coordinated with construction activity in the area.

Dublin officials said they anticipate the cemetery site would be open to the public in summer 2022.

Archaeologists from EMH&T, a land-development and public-works engineering firm, performed a cultural-resources investigation on the site for Dublin on April 23, said Joel Brown, director of cultural resources at EMH&T.

The site is a mid- to late-19th-century cemetery that on the surface looks like a former agricultural field, Brown said.

"There are no visible indications at this time that the location holds a cemetery," he said.

But EMH&T archaeologists found 22 grave shafts, Brown said.

"Because there were no grave markers of any kind, we can only speculate the graves belonged to the land owners and their neighbors of the time, dating to the mid-1800s to early 1900s," he said.

Area land owners and neighbors during that time included the Brown and Harris families, as well as others, all of whom were Black farmers in the area, Brown said.

He said research is being done to figure out the names of people who may be buried in the cemetery based on census records, historic atlas maps, property records and cemetery records.

EMH&T has identified burials of some Brown and Harris family members in other cemeteries, such as Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Oakdale Cemetery in Marysville and Forest Grove Cemetery in Plain City.

Other individuals who they weren't able to identify as being buried elsewhere most likely are people who may be buried in the Dublin cemetery, EMH&T officials said.

Krista Horrocks, archaeologist and projects-review manager with the State Historic Preservation Office, said her office has worked as a consulting party for the project.

During the 1800s, creating family cemeteries was normal. Many times it was done because of lack of access to a city-owned cemetery or to fight costs associated with burials, she said.

Often, cemeteries would expand as neighbors' deceased relatives were added to adjacent burial grounds.

At least eight Black families lived in this general area, and more lived in Washington Township as a whole, Horrocks said.

Some of the families were land owners, she said. The cemetery was established before the Civil War, and it is likely that those associated with the cemetery either were freed people or escaped slaves, although more research is needed to confirm that, she said.

The families likely were unable to be buried in white cemeteries in the area, Horrocks said.

Dublin is going to try to reach out to descendants of the families associated with the cemetery, Horrocks said.

She said it is believed some of the family members might have moved to Madison County, but some descendants might have remained local.

"I think we will likely be able to reach out to some of them," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah