A historic family cemetery will be relocated from the Shrewsbury Township farm where it started more than 200 years ago, making room for a retail center and increasing access for descendants of people who were buried there.
Baltimore-based Market Place LLC took ownership of the Keeney Cemetery in 2008, after paying $5.35 million to buy the 86-acre farm that surrounds it.
Market Place wants to build a retail center on the land, which is zoned commercial and has a prime location off Interstate 83, between the highway and Elm Drive, said attorney Stacey MacNeal with the York-based firm Katherman, Heim & Perry.
Those plans are still in concept form and have not been submitted for approval, she said. Tenants for the site have not been determined.
What is certain is that any type of retail center isn't an appropriate place for the cemetery, which currently sits on about a 10th of an acre in the middle of a soybean field with no access road, she said.
Petitioned to move graves: The business filed papers with York County's Clerk of Orphans' Court to move the estimated 24 to 30 graves to the New Freedom Cemetery, where a portion of land has been set aside for placement of headstones. Any remains found at Keeney Cemetery will be placed in vaults with the corresponding headstones, which are to be arranged in the same order as they were at Keeney, she said.
Documents show the company notified surviving relatives about their petition to move the graves and, while some said they wanted to be present for the disinterments, none protested during a Tuesday hearing.
Common Pleas Judge Penny L. Blackwell OK'd the move with a ruling from the bench, with the owner agreeing to notify descendants when the move occurs.
Fall moving date: MacNeal said the relocation, expected to cost as much as $40,000, will start this fall after a farmer harvests the sea of soybeans surrounding the site.
There had previously been a farm road to the cemetery, but relatives have been unable to easily access the site since I-83 was built and the path was no longer maintained. The new arrangement, in addition to being a more appropriate placement for graves, will allow more access for descendants and better maintenance, she said.
The old cemetery's fence is damaged, as are most of the stones.
The cemetery started in the late 1700s, but most of the graves are from the mid-to-late 1800s.
A survey from the York County Heritage Trust shows 24 graves, but at least one family member believes there were 30 people buried at Keeney, MacNeal said.
In many cases, the bodies were believed to have been buried without caskets or in wood caskets. Because of the ages of most of the graves, the exhumations are expected to yield little more than discolored soil in all but the most recent grave, believed to have been created between 1920 and 1930, MacNeal said.
During the disinterment, workers will use equipment to remove the top layer of sod and dig until hitting discoloration. At the level of discoloration, workers will dig by hand and look for possible organic matter such as bones, she said.
-- Staff writer Christ ina Kauffman can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.