October 21, 2015 -- Before DeKalb County's Champion White Oak tree was cut down and hauled off last week to clear a 2.5 acre lot for a new 11-home subdivision, a long-time Kirkwood resident approached members of Atlanta Protects Trees (APT) with some startling news. The resident recalled playing as a child in a cemetery located where the trees were being cut: 145 Norwood Ave in the Kirkwood neighborhood of East Atlanta. APT quickly enlisted the services of an African-American historian who confirmed that there once had been a church on the site with a road to a cemetery under the tree canopy. There was also a creek on a 1928 map that the builder's site plan didn't show. The historian recommended an underground penetrating sonar survey be conducted.
The resident's description of the site precisely matched the historian's account, so APT promptly notified the City of Atlanta that the tree cutters, and eventually the builder, Thrive Homes, potentially would be disturbing an old burial ground. APT requested a stop work order until further investigation of a possible cemetery on that site could be conducted. The City did not issue a stop work order and the tree cutting proceeded. The Champion Tree, the largest documented white oak in DeKalb County, took two days to be cut down -- and a good 30-40 minutes of digging to loosen the soil around the trunk -- but the last remnants of its trunk were pushed over Thursday afternoon.
The City of Atlanta has very specific ordinances for burial grounds disturbances, including "identifying and notifying the descendants of those buried or believed to be buried in such cemetery" and specifying exactly how any human remains or burial objects on the site will be relocated. The Tree Next door is unsure why the City did not stop work on the site after APT presented them with signed witness testimony and historical documents showing that the area possibly contained human graves.
"No response from the City of Atlanta, staff historian, or DeKalb County has been received on what is believed to be a mid to late 1800's African American historical site," reported APT on their Facebook Page last Thursday. "Thrive [Homes] has worked fast and furious to destroy this site without giving APT, historians on site or neighbors to establish this site as historic with cemeteries and bodies beneath the trees and equipment. APT would like know why the City of Atlanta will not stop work until these discoveries can be investigated."
APT is still investigating the potential cemetery which they believe "possibly houses family, civil war soldier and/or African American remains." APT also states that, "it's our understanding that the developer is aware of this potential obstacle for their project". APT is asking the nearby neighbors to keep a close watch on the site, and record any activity that might be useful in determining if a burial site is being disturbed.
Please follow Atlanta Protects Trees' Facebook Page to keep updated with their investigation and to view videos of the tree cutting. The DeKalb Country Champion White Oak may be down, but the question now is: what lies beneath?