Three headstones found this week on adjoining properties on West Hickory Street and North State Boulevard brought a halt to development of an apartment building due to concerns bodies may have been buried there.
“The stones were just sitting there,” said Brad Abell, an employee of Circle M Metals, a Dallas company that specializes in demolitions. “I’m religious, so I was not going to disturb a gravesite.”
For several days, Circle M Metals had been razing three houses built in the mid-20th century at that corner near the University of North Texas when it was nearing the end of its work. Abell said he found a headstone on Monday at the edge of the property line next to another home and another on the fence line separating that property and the three others that had been demolished.
That is when he called off the work and contacted the developer — Golden Star Rock Investments of Frisco — and the Denton Police Department.
“I found a homeless man in the back room of the second house on the property,” Abell said. “He threatened me with a pipe and invoked his Fourth Amendment rights. I called the police.”
Denton officials said the land is being cleared for the construction of a 27-unit, three-story apartment building for student housing.
Randy Hunt, president of Historic Denton, said the demolished homes at 2024 (A.J. Robinson), 2026 (Claud McDaniel) and 2030 (J. Harold and Shirley Farmer) W. Hickory St., were built in 1946 and 1948. They were part of a historical survey the Texas Historical Commission qualified as a National Register District, Hunt said.
Two of the headstones found were for Shelby Howard Williams (1882-1931) and Lora Elisabeth Lindsey Whitwell (1864-1911). Hunt said Whitwell was buried at Midline Cemetery in Trophy Club. Williams was buried at Oakwood Cemetery. But the original headstones had typos engraved, and Hunt believes that after new headstones were created, relatives or others removed the old ones.
“But even without bodies here, those headstones definitely belong to someone,” Abell said.
Denton City Council District 3 member Jesse Davis visited the site on Tuesday. He said he suspected no bodies had been buried on the property.
“I find it kind of unlikely that graves would have been built around there without some record being kept,” he said. “These things do happen. I have seen where people have used gravestones in their landscaping.”
Denton officials said local ordinances do not address the discovery of possible burial sites by developers. Instead, such discoveries are generally regulated at the state level.