It does not look like a cemetery. But an archaeologist hired by the city of Annapolis has found that a disputed waterfront building lot on Georgetown Road is the same land designated in early deeds as the cemetery of a prominent black family.
Those who have opposed developing the location called the finding a "big step" toward preservation of the burial site.
The dispute over the wooded property that once belonged to a free black man named London Pinkney heated up in January when the current owner sought permission to build a house on the land, which is restricted by environmental regulations.
Though his request was denied on environmental grounds, the owner, Walter Czerwinski of Annapolis, can reapply next year. Pinkney descendants and their supporters want to know what lies under the disputed soil.
"It doesn't look like a cemetery per se, but the original owners cannot be found in any local cemeteries," said Janice Hayes Williams, who has researched the property and searched for Pinkney's remains in local cemeteries. "What I want to know is, where is London Pinkney?"
Pinkney purchased the parcel about 1871 as part of an 89-acre tract on a secluded peninsula along Back Creek. About the time of his death in 1888, when his land was divided among family members, the disputed 0.62-acre parcel was designated as the family cemetery.
That designation has long been contested by potential developers. The property has been on and off the state's tax rolls, as it has flip-flopped from a tax-exempt cemetery to a taxable private property.
Price was $170,000
Czerwinski purchased the property from Lenore Bazzichi of Ellwood City, Pa., in August 1990 for $170,000.
When Bazzichi purchased it Nov. 3, 1987, from a holding company that had owned it since 1952, it was tax-exempt.
About a week later, she had it put back on the tax rolls, claiming it was not a cemetery. Her purchase deed, which refers to the property as "the cemetery lot," lists a purchase price of $10. Though Bazzichi declined to comment, her husband, Doug Cosgrove, said she paid $15,000.
Cosgrove, who said he doesn't believe anyone is buried there, called the purchase a "very speculative investment" because environmental restrictions made it unclear whether the couple would be able to build there or sell the land to a builder for profit.
But in 1989, Cosgrove said they did obtain a building permit from the city and sold the property, with the permit, to Czerwinski.
Building permit lapses
But the permit had lapsed by the time he began pursuing development last year. Czerwinski could not be reached for comment.
After the January hearing before the Board of Appeals, the city's contracted archaeologist, Jim Gibb, surveyed the land and researched documents to determine if the land in question was the same as that referred to in early deeds.
"I'm of the opinion that at least one person is buried there," Gibb said.
No excavation has been done on the site, and no remains or grave markers have been found, but Williams and other supporters said Gibb's opinion would help preservation efforts.
State law requires that builders developing on a known burial site have an archaeologist present and that remains are reburied elsewhere as was the case with the skeletons discovered last week during installation of water pipes at Church Circle. Supporters hope development doesn't get that far.