Historic Montgomery County Cemeteries in the News:
- Isaac and Ann Shoemaker’s 140-acre farm is now part of Chevy Chase. Purchasing the land in 1839, the Quaker family brought new agricultural methods to soil exhausted by tobacco. Ann was buried here in 1853, followed by a son and two other individuals, then Isaac in 1883. Shoemakers owned the land through World War I and excluded their 1/7th acre burial plot from a sale in 1925. Family members continued to visit the graves for the next century, even as the farm was subdivided for residential development, the address became 5200 Murray Road, and the burial plot continued to show on Land and Tax records, subdivision plats, funeral home and family archives. This well-documented plot, which straddles two current properties, was included in the official Montgomery County Burial Sites Inventory as ID#324. Nancy Werner, great-great granddaughter of Isaac Shoemaker, grew up visiting the family graves with her grandfather and father. Solid documentary evidence supports the Shoemaker descendants’ belief that Isaac, Ann and the others were interred here between 1853 and 1883, although markers can no longer be seen above ground. In 2016 Paramount Construction purchased property containing half of the Shoemaker burial plot, razing an existing single-family home with intent to replace it with a larger one. Paramount claimed legal title and in 2018 asked the Circuit Court to find that as a factual matter no human remains are buried there. After a judge ruled in favor of Paramount, the Shoemaker family appealed this decision, with support from Montgomery Preservation, the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, neighbors, and other donors. On August 13, 2021, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision, ruling that as a matter of law, Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery is not protected and can be redeveloped. This is a regrettable outcome, even though the higher court’s decision did not establish any binding legal precedent. However, this well-documented cemetery is not protected by Montgomery County law because it is not undergoing subdivision. Many eyes will watch, once construction starts for a new residence, to see if any human remains or artifacts are found; we hope an archaeologist will be on site. Maryland law provides certain protections, including a requirement to halt construction until the situation is sorted out. Maryland also encourages access by persons of interest and requires that the owner consult with the Maryland Historical Trust before moving forward with building plans.
- River Road Moses Cemetery (#327), from which remains were removed in the late 1950s to make way for a high-rise building and stream management. This cemetery was documented by Little Falls Watershed Alliance volunteers and recognized by Montgomery Planning staff. Currently it is the subject of protests and a law suit by members of nearby Macedonia Baptist Church concerned about additional remains and commemoration of the vibrant black community that once existed here.
- St. Paul Community Cemetery (#140) in Sugarland, near Poolesville, where descendants and other volunteers have for the past two years been mapping and memorializing a community burial ground. This project follows years of Sugarland Ethno History Project work to document this 19th century black community, restore the church, and share this special place with the public. Cobblestone markers were installed at the site of every unmarked grave that was located by ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology.
- Zachariah Waters family cemetery (#219) This family burial ground called “Poplar Spring” contains the remains of Revolutionary War Patriot Zachariah Waters (d. 1824), his wife Anna and their children Tilghman, Baker and Courtney Waters. There are no direct descendants, so the Germantown Historical Society cares for the graves which are surrounded by a metal fence. It is located on the east side of Century Blvd. opposite Rosebay Lane. The property is currently being developed for mixed use by Symmetry at Cloverleaf.
- Morningstar Tabernacle Number 88 Cemetery (#105) in Cabin John, where a stalwart coalition of descendants, neighbors, researchers, groups, and other supporters have been pushing back on State Highway Administration plans to widen the Capitol Beltway through graves again. The original corporation was revived, and burials 1890s to 1970s have been documented, with GPR technology suggesting hundreds of additional potential gravesites. Named one of the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered historic sites of 2021, Morningstar champions are participating in the arduous legal Federal and State processes of Sections 106 and 4f. www.friendsofmoseshall.org
UPDATE: 31 January 2022
Montgomery County Burial Sites Inventory Map
The Burial Site Inventory is the list of Burial Sites officially adopted by the Planning Board pursuant to Section 33A-17 of the Montgomery County Code (Planning Procedures). The inventory consists of a GIS data layer, and associated documentation, and is maintained by Historic Preservation staff.
All of the points in the current Burial Sites Inventory are intended to represent our best understanding of the approximate center of cemeteries and burial sites currently listed in our inventory. They are not intended in any way to convey the boundaries of those sites; there may be instances in the current inventory where a cemetery may extend across lot lines.
The confidence and precision of burial sites in the inventory varies. Some sites are well documented, or clearly visible on the surface today, and their location was confirmed through field observation. Other burial grounds are known through oral or archival history sources, but the burials have been removed, or the exact location is unknown. Sites in the inventory are divided into two broad categories:
- Known sites confirmed in the field or through historical research
- Approximate Sites, exact location and condition unknown
Cemetery Preservation in Maryland
Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites (CPMBS) is an all-volunteer non-profit formed in 1992 to combat a horrific situation in Howard County. Since that time, the Coalition has nurtured a state-wide network, dispensed information and support to local advocates, sparked changes to Maryland law, conducted workshops and annual gatherings, and helped solve problems. The Coalition’s website covers Maryland Cemetery Conference sessions and provides links to resources available for caretakers and advocates. In 2016, the Trader Foundation for Maryland Burial Sites was created to offer small grants for projects that will benefit local cemeteries.
Preservation Maryland (PM), the state historic preservation non-profit, selected Historic Maryland Cemeteries as a 2016-17 preservation concern. During this year-long “Six to Fix” project, PM worked closely with the Coalition to bring much-needed attention to neglected and abandoned burial grounds. PM helped the Coalition upgrade its website, sponsored a History Conference session, testified at the General Assembly on legislation, created a PreserveCast, supported the Coalition’s statewide conference in April 2017, and partnered in a successful volunteer documentation-conservation-clean-up day in Charles County in October 2017.
Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) is the state agency responsible for historic preservation and archaeology. MHT is concerned about all historic properties and recognizes that many Maryland cemeteries are endangered as well as significant. Through MHT the African American Heritage Preservation Grant Program is available, which has in recent years made substantial grants to properties that include cemeteries.
Maryland General Assembly plays a vital role in cemetery protection and preservation. Some State laws are on the books—prohibiting desecration, authorizing access, requiring approval to move graves, and creating the Office of Cemetery Oversight—but there is room for improvement. To become an advocate or make suggestions, contact Eileen McGuckian at firstname.lastname@example.org
Statewide Maryland African American Cemetery Study
In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly directed the Maryland Commission on African American History & Culture and the Maryland Historical Trust to study the needs of historic African American cemeteries, with feedback from stakeholders including the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, Preservation Maryland, descendant communities, and the general public.
This momentous and urgent project will culminate in a report with recommendations to the General Assembly in spring 2022. Please help your representatives understand the challenges faced by African American burial sites by filling out the survey online or on paper. Please alert churches, organizations, and other cemetery stakeholders about this important statewide effort.
More information on the project can be found at https://africanamerican.maryland.gov/historic-african-american-cemetery-project/