Baltimore Sun

Century-old cemetery is unlikely tenant for Towson Circle III

The headstone marking the burial place of Catharine Schmuck marks a small family cemetery that sits on the grounds of the Towson Circle III project. The grounds will be maintained as a small park, adjacent to the 16-screen Cinemark Theatres to be built along Pennsylvania Avenue (inset map). The other shaded areas shown on the site are restaurants and other businesses that will be part of Towson Circle III.

As progress has plowed through downtown Towson over the years, family members buried in the 19th century at the Catharine Schmuck Cemetery off Virginia Avenue have had little opportunity to rest in peace.

In fact, right now might be the quietest time for the small Shealey and Schmuck family grave site, surrounded by largely empty parking lots.


That peace will soon be broken with excavation set to begin on an 862-car underground parking garage beneath a 16-screen movie theater — the centerpiece of the Towson Circle III development.

Still, developers of the project say they'll make sure that, at the very least, those buried at the site will continue to rest in the same place.


Fronda Cohen, spokeswoman for the county, said this week the developers of the $85 million project, "have told the county that the cemetery is going to be protected during construction and afterwards."

Megan Slattery, marketing manager for the Cordish Companies, which is developing the 4.2-acre site along with Heritage Properties, responded to a Towson Times' inquiry via email, saying, "The cemetery will be appropriately protected during construction and, consistent with the entire development, it will be handled in a respectful and first-class manner."

"It's historic, so they can't demolish it," said Fifth District County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson.

"They're going to have a little courtyard," Marks said. "I think the cemetery will be better maintained than it is right now."

Currently, a steel fence separates the square plot of land from vast asphalt parking lots that surround it. Only one worn headstone marks a grave site, that of Catharine Schmuck, below a solitary tree. According to the headstone, Schmuck was born in 1767 and died in 1831.

When the development is complete, the cemetery will provide a slice of green space right off the European-style roundabout in front of the 16-screen Cinemark Theatres (see map).

Carol Allen, chairwoman of the Baltimore County Landmark Preservation Committee, said she hopes the space planed for the plaza will be modified to be more inviting to passers-by.

In her previous role with Historic Towson, Allen said the now-defunct group had discussions with the county Office of Planning, as well as descendants of the Shealey family, about preserving the site.


Similarly, former county historian and Towson resident John McGrain said the cemetery has come up "time and time again" over the last few decades.

McGrain said an 1877 atlas of Baltimore County shows that the land was part of a large swath of downtown Towson owned by Mary Shealey.

But in the 1880s, Shealey went bankrupt and deeded everything out to other entities, he said, except for some street beds — including the nearby Shealy Avenue — and the cemetery.

There is no known deed for the cemetery, he said, and as such, the different development plans that have been proposed over years have clearly stipulated that the cemetery was not owned by any developer.

It's unclear how many people have been buried on the site — family members told The Baltimore Sun in 2005 that as many as 18 people are buried there, though other accounts say it could be as few as three.

When Hutzler's department store closed and the area became a target for redevelopment, the county joined forces with historical groups for an archaeological dig to ensure that no bodies were buried outside of the cemeteries fenced boundary. The Sun reported that a 1996 dig uncovered no bodies outside of the fence — and cleared development to move forward.


Though there were no remains found in the soil outside the fence, there will be plenty of underground activity nearby in the future. The Baltimore County Revenue Authority is financing a garage, which will be below the movie theater.

Lynnie Cook, chief executive of the Revenue Authority, said the cemetery will be "a pleasant historical focal point for the development."

UPDATE: Towson Circle III meeting postponed

Due to the threat of inclement weather, County Councilman David Marks has postponed a Feb. 8 informational meeting that had been planned regarding the Towson Circle III development.

Marks said in an email that the meeting, which was to begin at 7 p.m. at the East Towson Carver Community Center, will instead be held in early March.

"I will be working with the developer and Office of Planning to identify a date very soon," Marks said.