|Saved: The tombstone of Mary
Smith, who died in 1814, is the only stone in the
graveyard that can be read easily. Photo by Brett
Clark, Salisbury Post
By Jim McNally
Recent changes to the Interstate 85 widening project will assure
that the final resting place for some long-deceased members of a
Rowan County family stays that way.
A cemetery, which dates back to Colonial times, will be spared
from bulldozers and earth-movers as they widen I-85 north of Union
The project's contractor, Blythe Construction Co., has opted to
leave the land untouched and, instead, erect a retaining wall to
separate the cemetery from the highway.
Original construction plans, approved in November 2002, called
for moving remains at the cemetery to the Country Home Cemetery off
Old Concord Road and gradually sloping the cemetery ground down to
the new lanes along the highway.
Kelly Seitz, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of
Transportation's Rowan County office, said the state is using a
"design-build" method on this section of I-85.
A design/build project, as the name implies, is one in which the
design work is done at the same time as the construction, he
explained. The design/build idea has been used for about four years
on North Carolina roads and lops off as much as five years of
plan-approval time from projects like I-85.
The design-build method also allows for on-the-spot alterations,
like saving the cemetery, because the plans are essentially written
"Those plans were never carved in stone," said Seitz.
The unnamed cemetery, located near mile-marker 80 on I-85, holds
the remains of as many as 75 members of a Smith family, some whom
died as long ago as 1802.
Blythe spokeswoman Sandy Whitaker-Pratt said she had heard about
the earlier plans, but by the time Blythe became involved with the
project, that part of the plan had already been changed.
"It is a done deal," she said. "We are not going to touch it."
She said she was heartened that the cemetery would remain
untouched because she has an advanced degree in history.
"I have a great appreciation for sites like that," she said.
Whitaker-Pratt had received a number of calls and e-mails from
citizens and descendants of the Smith family about what they
believed was the desecration of the cemetery.
Some of the family members also had the surname of Schmit and
Schmidt, according to research.
Local preservationist Dan Patterson apparently prompted
the e-mail campaign when he put links on a Web site encouraging
those with an interest in things old to try to sway authorities to
leave the cemetery in peace.
Patterson got a number of e-mails, including one from a man
identifying himself as Gerald Adams and saying he is the
great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Peter Schmidt, one
of the people buried in the cemetery.
"I would sure like to know the exact location of that cemetery,"
the e-mail says.
Another e-mail came from a woman identifying herself as Sylvia
Heiney and saying Peter Schmidt's youngest daughter, Eva, married
her great-great-great-great grandfather, John Adams.
A woman from Colorado was less specific about the lineage and
wrote only that she is a "descendent of personages buried in that
Neither Whitaker-Pratt nor Seitz would confirm whether the minor
furor about digging up the cemetery had any impact on the decision
to leave it alone.
The $84 million widening project will transform a 3.6-mile
section of I-85 north of Salisbury from four to eight lanes,
according to Seitz.
Seitz added that, since the project is prone to changes, he could
not be firm about a completion date.
Contact Jim McNally at 704-797-4264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.