To the Editor:
Two weeks ago, I was made aware of the desecration of an historic cemetery in Murfreesboro. That cemetery had been included in the 2014 survey of cemeteries in Rutherford County. Photos of the tombstones were taken and stored in the County Archives of the cemetery survey.
In that Warren Cemetery were buried my great-great-grandparents, William Warren (1785-1852) and Catherine Thompson Warren (1796-1832). Catherine was the daughter of Col. John Thompson, a Revolutionary War soldier and very early settler in Middle Tennessee.
His parents, Thomas Thompson (1713-1794) and Ann Finney (1716-1796) migrated south from Pennsylvania to Orange County. Jane Gray Buchanan wrote a meticulously researched book with a very long title: “Thomas Thompson and Ann Finney of Colonial Pennsylvania and North Carolina” about the early settlers of Middle Tennessee and North Carolina.
The small Warren Cemetery is located on land now owned by Gary Semanchik who is building an indoor shooting range and a gun store right in the exact same area as the Warren cemetery. Semanchik hired the excavating contractor Marshall Construction to clear the land in preparation for construction.
Despite cemetery preservationist Allen Gooch’s warning to Marshall Excavators of a cemetery in the area, a bulldozer was sent in on or about Oct. 1. The land was cleared, the tombstones broken and otherwise damaged via bulldozer, and all the tombstones left in a huge, 40-foot high pile of dirt, debris, and broken tombstones. The bulldozer operator claims he thought the tombstones were just rocks.
Graham Perry, historic preservation specialist with the Tennessee Historic Commission, tells me that the problem is that appropriate laws have not been passed to facilitate preservation. Because the Warren Cemetery was on privately owned land, it was not as protected as it would have been on public land. There is a process for relocation of a private cemetery which involves petitioning the court for permission.
For those of you who agree with me that the manner in which the tombstones of William and Catherine were manhandled by a backhoe is profoundly wrong, there are several things you can do.
You can remind Gary Semanchik that he didn't have to build his parking lot on top of a historic cemetery. You might even consider buying your guns from an establishment not located in the middle of a graveyard. You can also remind Marshall excavators that Allen Gooch warned the company there was a cemetery where they were excavating, but Marshall construction carelessly proceeded.
But by far, the most important thing you can do is support laws which protect historic sites on private land. Other small, forgotten family cemeteries could also be jeopardized by development. Think hard, folks. Think about what laws are needed to better preserve these historic spaces.
Alice Warren Valle