Grave in the middle of Johnson County road being moved

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Work is underway in Johnson County to move a grave site that's right in the middle of a county road.

The excavation work got underway Wednesday morning with University of Indianapolis anthropology experts carefully removing the dirt from a four-foot high mound. Nancy Kerlin Barnett was buried there 185 years ago. In 1905, the county built the road around the grave, but over the years, passing vehicles were unable to avoid hitting it.

Ryan Facemire owns the farmland next to the grave site.

"I remember two or three accidents, and then it's always hard to get through with farm equipment," Facemire said.

Christopher Schmidt is overseeing the excavation. He is a professor of anthropology at the University of Indianapolis

"They want to preserve its location, but because it sits so far above grade, it's a hazard to drivers and to the remains themselves," according to Schmidt.

Anthropologists plan to remove the remains and return them to the site after road crews level the ground to make it safer for traffic.

"When it's done, the grave will be under the ground about two feet or so, which is the standard," explained David Pfeiffer, director of the Johnson County Museum of History. "We're planning on having a wall around it to protect it, and we're hoping to have the historical marker there."

While the work continues, the historical marker is stored in the back of a truck. It states that Nancy Kirlin Barnett was born back in 1793. She was married to William, who was the great-great-great-grandson of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. It also states that her grandson stood by her grave with his gun while the county relocated the cemetery in order to build the road.

"This is just such an important part of early Johnson County history," Pfeiffer said. "Nancy was one of the early pioneers of Johnson County. As far as we know, it's the only grave in the middle of the road in Indiana."

Robin Quataert is one of several anthropology grad students now working at the site.

"That's the first time I've worked in the middle of a road before. But also just the amount of stories that surround the grave itself."

Ryan Facemire says it's good to see the improvement at the site.

"Hopefully at the end, the family of the deceased is happy with the way everything looks and all the history still remains there. And the road is wide enough for modern day farm equipment to get through."

The project is expected to be complete in the next month.