|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
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 Church
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 in
"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
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
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 cemetery."
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
View Smith Cemetery
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