Geological survey reveals unmarked graves at development site

GREENVILLE, S.C. – A geological survey around a cemetery at a development site near Furman University has revealed the possible existence of previously-unknown grave sites, according to an Upstate-based historical preservation consultant.

The survey, which includes the use of ground-penetrating radar testing equipment, is being conducted at Duncan Chapel Methodist Church Cemetery, located on the corner of Duncan Chapel and Old Buncombe roads.

Established in the 1840s, the cemetery – which was once believed to be haunted, now overgrown and showing signs of apparent vandalism – sits on a corner of the 14-acre development site. It has over 80 known, marked graves and was in use up until the early 1960s.

But it's the area outside of the cemetery's original boundaries that had area historical groups concerned once development of the site was underway.

White flags mark possible grave sites outside of the original Duncan Chapel Methodist Church Cemetery boundaries. (James Richardson, Travelers Rest Tribune)


Jack Shaw, who bought the property in the early 80s, agreed to have the survey conducted after questions were raised over the possibility that graves existed outside of the area drawn on a plat used to determine protected areas.

“We knew where the boundaries were when we bought [the property], but we wanted to check the area outside of those boundaries,” Shaw said.

According to Preservation South's Kyle Campbell, the consultant hired by Shaw to complete the cemetery survey, the original boundaries as determined in the 70s were then marked only by obvious, marked grave stones.

“The original surveyors weren't looking for the existence of unmarked graves, possibly those of children, slaves or people who simply couldn't afford a marked head stone,” he said.

Keith Seramur, the professional geologist who operated the geological testing equipment last week at the site, said radar pulses were used to determine the location of disturbed ground. Once identified, probes that omit an electrical current were then used to mark the ends to determine if it is, in fact, the size of a grave.

“The radar goes down, and when it hits soil with different electrical properties, we get a reflection off the base of the grave shaft,” Seramur said, pointing to a spot on a monitor that he said was indicative of a “vaulted” grave, one that was capped with a stone the size of the coffin.

Keith Seramur, a professional geoligist, points at the site of a possible, previously-unknown grave site at Duncan Chapel Cemetery. (James Richardson, Travelers Rest Tribune)


Campbell said initial survey results indicate 55 unmarked sites that were located outside of the cemetery's previously-mapped boundaries.  

But although the newly-marked sites, which Campbell described as “probable” graves, indicate the existence of a site and will be protected from being disturbed, there may be no way to determine the identity of the person.

“We don't know who is buried in these spots, and we may never know,” Campbell said.

According to a report in The Greenville News, a 41,000-square-foot grocery store with six fuel pumps and a kiosk, is planned for the site, which is also slated to include a Greenville Health System children's facility, among other things.