Developer says Beck Cemetery will be fully protected

Developer says Beck Cemetery will be fully protected

August 16th, 2015 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

An old tombstone is seen at the site of an old cemetery located next to the construction site for a new housing development on Dartmouth Street in the North Chattanooga community Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

A developer in North Chattanooga says a historic black graveyard found during construction on Dartmouth Street will be fully protected.

Cris Angsten, director of marketing and design for Green Tech Homes, which is building a neighborhood in the 800 block of Dartmouth Street, said the company is taking every step to protect the Beck Knob Cemetery.

Contractors uncovered part of the century-old black cemetery at 875 Dartmouth St. while they were clearing the area to develop 46 single-family homes on 10 acres adjacent to the cemetery.

Beck Knob Cemeter

GreenTech Homes has created a social media page for the Beck Knob Cemetery at www.facebook.com/beckcemetery.

The company encourages discussion and sharing of information about the graveyard.

At that point, Angsten said in a statement Friday, all construction near the site was halted.

"After discovering a single headstone hidden by overgrown brush, we stopped work within 500 feet of the area and have been working with an archaeologist to determine the full extent of the cemetery. To the best of the archaeologist's knowledge, no graves have been disturbed," Angsten said.

To accommodate the burial ground, Green Tech has redrawn its plans for the development and is deeding a buffer area around the cemetery and building a fence around the site, Angsten said.

The company has created a social media page to document the work, and give the community a central place to discuss restoration of the graveyard, she said.

It's unclear what group would get the extra buffer property.

Dr. Nick Honerkamp of the UTC archaeology department looks collapsed graves at the site of an old cemetery adjacent to the construction site for a new housing development on Dartmouth Street in the North Chattanooga community Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Dr. Nick Honerkamp of the UTC archaeology department...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Hamilton County property records show no owner for the graveyard, and list it only as "Negro Cemetery."

But Alma Webb, a member of the Hamilton County Genealogical Society who has researched and recorded the nearly 100 names of those buried in the cemetery, said a nearby church is the caretaker.

Originally, the cemetery was part of Joshua Beck's farm. Beck was a prominent landowner and pioneer in Hamilton County in the late 1800s, she said. He founded the cemetery as a place for servants and the family members of slaves to be buried. It was active into the 1940s. Beck's own family cemetery is on what is now the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.

Webb's research showed Beck's sons deeded the Beck Knob Cemetery to the Hurst Memorial M.E. Church in 1888.

Staff at the nearby Hurst United Methodist Church at 829 Dallas Road did not return a phone message Friday seeking to confirm if it is the same church, or if it owns the Beck Knob Cemetery property.

Webb said old graveyards in the area are discovered, forgotten and rediscovered every few decades. She last remembers the Beck Knob Cemetery being cleared of overgrowth in the 1980s, when her son's high school class did the work.

It's important to remember those long-ago residents and respect their lives' work, she said.

"The reason that I took such an interest in these people these people are the people who made Chattanooga, because rich people hired them to make the roads and the things that are in North Chattanooga. To me, those people meant a lot to the community up there," Webb said.

Chattanooga Land Development Director Gary Hilbert said work could restart once the archaeologist's assessment is complete and new plans are approved.

The developer is planing to subdivide a number of large parcels in the area north of Dartmouth and Curve streets and build a new road leading north from Dartmouth into the new subdivision. That road runs along the west side of the cemetery and is on the original 1910 plat for the property.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com, @glbrogoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.