Company building apartments atop former graveyard considers hiring consultants

January 29, 2018

What do you do when your job is to build an apartment building on what could be the city’s oldest African American cemetery? You start by asking a lot of questions, according to contractor Vaughan Buckley.

Wash N’ Lube car wash at 4125 Chestnut St was demolished earlier this month.

That’s what Buckley, head of Vaughan Buckley Construction, is doing after it was discovered last week that the site of a proposed apartment building at 4125 Chestnut Street, the property formerly occupied by the now-demolished Wash N’ Lube car wash, could have graves below.

“Consultants and other professionals in this field are being contacted and interviewed by my team and I, to help us throughout this process,” Buckley wrote in a formal statement on Friday. He said that the company is bringing in environmental and soil specialists to deal specifically with the cemetery situation.

The possibility that a graveyard was on the site became widely known after a Philadelphia Inquirer article was published last week. 

Buckley said his crews will treat any remains they might discover with care and respect, but he doesn’t plan to halt construction. The company has already demolished the car wash and further work is scheduled in the next few weeks.

The Philadelphia Archeological Forum, which first rang the alarm over the cemetery last week, hopes consultants will get involved. “What we would hope is that the developer would hire an archeological consultant,” said Douglas Mooney, the forum’s president.

When Mooney sent a letter to the city’s Licenses and Inspections department on Friday, Jan. 19, he had hoped the city would get actively involved in the case. He also said that the city’s Orphan Court has jurisdiction over what happens to any potential graves, though Buckley said he interprets that jurisdiction differently.

Karen Guss, a spokesperson for L&I, said the department reached out to the property’s developer after receiving Mooney’s letter, but only to urge them to be careful. Having permitted the construction already, she said, neither L&I nor any other city department has jurisdiction to interfere in the construction process. Buckley said he only found out about the graveyard when the Inquirer contacted him last Tuesday.

Both Guss and Buckley downplayed the extent to which the construction project would damage graves.

“I think it’s being portrayed a little bit like it’s an actual cemetery and here comes the bulldozer,” Guss said, noting that a car wash had occupied the territory for years.

“We’re not talking about going in and desecrating an existing cemetery,” Buckley said, adding: “It doesn’t mean that we’re not considerate of the situation. […] It just means that it’s a car wash that potentially has human remains underneath it.” Still, the new development will involve substantial digging as it includes underground parking.

On Friday, Buckley was trying to get in touch with Reverend Mapson of Monumental Baptist Church, which the Inquirer suggested has associations with the cemetery.

“What [Mapson] wants to do is probably more important than what many other people think,” Buckley said.

As of Monday morning, Monumental Baptist Church had not responded to an interview request.

Eduard Saakashvili

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Hermes Says:

    Historic maps (including the 1895 Bromley referenced in the article) can be seen at the link below.

  2. Avdol Muhammed Says:

    Even in death, America is still built on the backs of us.

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