The 1862 deed conveys the property, with the exception of "one acre reserved as the burying ground at and around the stone enclosure of the same." The deed dictates the burial ground belongs to descendants of the families "forever." It's unclear, however, if the remaining eight-tenths of an acre property outside the stone enclosure were used as a burying ground for slaves or descendants of the Patteson and Schutte families.
The deed, however, should be taken seriously, says Michael Dodson, real estate marketing specialist for the city, who is investigating the property.
"Generally, if there is evidence that somebody may be there, then most developers use complete caution and try to verify," Dodson says.
Knowingly disturbing, damaging or destroying human burial sites is a Class 6 felony, according to state law. An archaeological dig to determine where burial grounds begin and end can take upwards of a year to complete, Dodson says.
Developer John Nodle, who is planning to build 44 homes in the Forest Hill subdivision known as Westower Ridge, didn't return phone calls seeking comment. On July 8, a company official answering the phones at Nodle's office said he was out of town and was unreachable.
The city issued a demolition permit to Nodle July 7, says city spokesman Bill Farrar. "They met all the legal requirements," he says.
Historically, however, the property may be much more significant than developers initially thought. Not only is the house believed to have been constructed by James A. Patteson (1723-1767), an old granite slave auction block still stood on the property as late as June 2004, according to friends of the Smith family.
The Smith family sold the property last summer, but not without controversy nor tragedy. Mike Smith, whose mother was a Schutte, died last June, not long after the house was listed for sale. He died shortly after a tragic fall in the house, friends of the family say.
Mike Smith, who lived in the house for much of his life, was distraught that the house was being sold, says longtime friend Keith Owens. "I don't think he ever planned on leaving that house," Owens says. "And as it turned out, he didn't." Scott Bass
Letters to the editor may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org