A Smithfield woman’s plea to the Raleigh City Council has helped save five family graves from being relocated to make way for a $7 million road-widening project on Leesville Road – for now.
Donna Mitchell’s ancestors back to her great-grandparents have rested in peace in the little family cemetery at the intersection of Crestmont Drive for decades. She told the council in a public hearing at their March 6 meeting that the site – which includes the grave of the mother Mitchell lost at age 10 to a train accident – ought to stay where it is.
“They’re saying they’re going to dig her up and set her on the other side – ain’t that kind of disturbing the peace?” Mitchell said. “Resting in peace? I just can’t see that happening.”
Mayor Nancy McFarlane was sympathetic and sent the matter to be reviewed by the Public Works Committee. Their next meeting was scheduled for last week, but has been pushed back until Tuesday.
In the meantime, the tiny cemetery sits atop a raised, grassy island amid a sea of concrete across from the Harrington Pointe subdivision, just down from Sycamore Creek Elementary School. It’s ringed by a chain-link fence with a locked gate and screened from nearby houses on three sides by bushes. The graves date back to the turn of the 19th century.
Since then, Leesville Road has become a well-traveled artery carrying North Raleigh traffic from West Millbrook Road across the I-540 loop, a still-bustling alternative to trafficky Glenwood Avenue. Right now, it sees between 25,000 and 30,000 cars per day, staff members told the council. In 20 years, it’s projected to see about 55,000 cars per day.
The road-widening project is set for one mile of road starting at the I-540 entrance ramp. The project will widen the strip to four lanes, with adjacent bike lanes, a raised median prohibiting left turns and 5-foot-wide sidewalks on both sides.
Family told the council that the graveyard has been there more than 100 years, dating back to when their ancestors owned large amounts of land in the area. In recent years, the family has taken pains to make sure the cemetery is kept neat, replacing a damaged antique fence with top-of-the-line chain link and planting shrubbery around the perimeter so the neighborhood wouldn’t have to look at headstones.
“All I’m asking y’all is to let them rest in peace,” relative Kay Lynn Buchanan said. “Why would you disturb a cemetery that’s been out there 100 years for a bicycle lane?”
The neighbors on the opposite side of the road have doubts as well, for different reasons. Across from the cemetery, Susan and Randall Ward own a large piece of property with a long stone wall parallel to the road that will have to be moved if the current widening plan goes ahead. Susan Ward told the council she wants full compensation for the builder’s estimate of $174,000 to move the wall.
“I know it’s a lot, but you know, you’re asking an awful lot,” Ward said.