Tribune-Courier Genereal Manager
Workers with the Marshall County Road Department temporarily ceased work at the construction site of the Children’s Art Center in Benton last Thursday after they were alerted to the possibility of an unofficial burial spot on the property.
Marshall County Road Superintendent Russell York said his crew was approached by county resident Bill Bourland with information that an unofficial cemetery was located under the Art’s Center parking lot. York said he contacted county officials and was advised to temporarily cease work at around 11 a.m. Thursday while the information was researched.
After receiving the information City Attorney Marty Johnson said he found archives of the Marshall County Genealogical Society which document evidence of several members of the John Warren Brandon family being buried on the property. The family lived at the corner of 12th and Elm Streets in the mid-late 1800s.
Archival documents filed by Samuel Rayburn Watkins prior to his death in 2012 detail the burial sites of seven people interred on the property between 1855 and 1886. Watkins was a historian and former owner of The Benton Tribune-Democrat.
According to Watkins’ records the bodies of three infants and four adults are buried in a small private Brandon family cemetery. Patriarch of the Brandon family, John Warren, is said to be buried on the property, despite a grave marker that appears next to his second wife’s burial spot in Thompson Cemetery. According to Watkin’s documents a marker was placed but reburial never occurred.
Road Department workers were back on the job Friday morning, with instructions to report anything that resembled human remains. York said the county is unearthing the ground to as much as 10 feet as part of the process to grade the site of the parking lot.
Johnson said the county would have a responsibility to call in the coroner’s office to confirm any remains believed to be human and have the site officially declared an abandoned cemetery by the Department of Vital Statistics. He said the remains would have to be unearthed and reinterred in another location.
“If workers find actual evidence of an unofficial cemetery we have a whole different level of responsibility and would cease work at the location until we could ensure a proper burial spot,” said Johnson.