Discovery of Civil War-era graves alters consrtuction plans at NC airport

One of the challenges to building on an airport in an historically rich area is that occasionally airport projects are impacted when pieces of that history are literally uncovered. Such is the case at Craven County Regional Airport (EWN) in New Bern, North Carolina.

Plans to construct new taxiways and hangars had to be curtailed because of the discovery of grave sites dating back to the Civil War era.

The original project called for the construction of three taxiways and 20 hangars.

“This will reduce the scope of the project,” said Airport Director Tom Braaten. “It was going to be one taxiway with two more taxiways perpendicular to the main one and we planned to have hangars on both sides of the two perpendicular taxiways. But because we found the suspected grave sites, we will not be able to do the two perpendicular taxiways. The area of the graves sits between those taxiways. We have shortened the length of the main taxiway. As far as the hangars go, the grave sites reduce the number to more like five.”

Braaten is quick to note that the discovery of the suspected grave sites was not a surprise and that construction had not even begun.

“We knew we already had a cemetery dating from 1865 on the airport,” he explained. “In the 1970s some graves were located on the airport and that area was carefully marked off. It was suspected that there might be more graves in a corner in the airfield, so when we had this project on order we brought out an archeologist to survey the area first.”

According to Braaten, the grave sites are unmarked and there is speculation they might be the final resting places of freed slaves.

“After the Civil War New Bern had the largest gathering of freed slaves in the United States,” he notes. “But there are no firm records of anyone being buried there so we do not know for sure. There may be graves there that are as recent as the 1910s and 1920s before the airport was built.”

Archeologists check for the graves by digging trenches in the suspected area and noting soil striation and disturbances. No remains or artifacts have been uncovered.

Braaten noted that if graves are found, airport officials will work with archeologists to document the site, then follow proper legal proceedings to relocate the graves.

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