Developer charged for damaging 200-year-old cemetery

Friday, July 21, 2017
Williaam Barry Brown

A cemetery predating Marshall County’s existence just north of Chapel Hill was destroyed March 27, by a developer working in the new Warner’s Ridge Subdivision.

Charges were filed in Marshall County General Sessions Court against William Barry Brown, 55, of Fayetteville, who caused severe damage to the more than two-century-old Riggs Cemetery when he asked an employee of his construction company to clear off the site with heavy equipment.

The Riggs Cemetery is located on Lot 114 of the subdivision. Brown, a contractor for the father-son-owned Brown Construction of Fayetteville, purchased property that belonged to Warner Farm in 2013. The property included 193 lots, which comprise the new Warner’s Ridge Subdivision.

The cemetery was named in memory of Edward Riggs who died in 1824. The graveyard existed since the 1700s and was previously called Gideonville Cemetery. Gideonville is described by the Tennessee Gazetteer in 1834, page 162, as “a town in Bedford County on the road from Nashville to Huntsville. It contained one store, two groceries, three taverns, four or five workshops and about forty inhabitants.” Gideonville later became a part of Marshall County.

Rigg’s Cemetery has been visited by relatives of the people interred there, and recently, multiple reports were filed to the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department about the grave markers’ destruction.

Brown turned himself in and was arrested and charged with Injury to Cemetery Property with a $5,000 bond July 18. He met bond and has been to court since he was released. His next court date is October 17. Brown has been required to hire an archaeologist to locate the graves. Once found, the graves will be marked and a fence will be constructed to preserve them.

In Tennessee, it is a Class E felony to deface a cemetery. Tennessee law states, “No person shall willfully destroy, deface, or injure any monument, tomb, gravestone, or other structure placed in the cemetery, or any roadway, walk, fence or enclosure in or around the cemetery, or injure any tree, plant or shrub, or hunt or shoot, play at any game or amusement, or loiter for lascivious or lewd purposes in the cemetery, or interfere, by words or actions, with any funeral procession or any religious exercises.”

“My intention was honorable from day one,” Brown said. “There were seven feet of weeds growing (on the site), that we would clean up and bring it back like it was. It was all blown out of proportion.”

As previously mentioned, the Riggs Cemetery is the resting place of Edward Riggs and his wife Elizabeth B. Riggs. He was born April 16, 1786, and died January 30, 1824. It is noted in Marshall County records that the cemetery’s condition was noted January 20, 1973, “There are 5 or 6 graves that have markers so badly broken, that they could not be read.” It is possible that these indistinguishable graves predate the Riggs Cemetery and were part of the old Gideonville Cemetery.

“I went to court yesterday (July 18, 2017) and the final hearing was postponed until October,” Brown said. “I had Todd Reese re-survey the lot and cemetery so we would know where to put the fence.” A copy of a letter to Brown from the surveyor states, “On April 12, 2017, I staked the property corners of the subject lot and staked the area of the cemetery located on the subject lot as shown on the recorded plat of Warners Ridge Subdivision… The area of the cemetery as shown on the recorded plat was marked by metal fence posts at the time of the original survey of Warners Ridge Subdivision, and those points were re-established by me from the original coordinate file of the survey.”

“My operator made an honest mistake,” Brown said. “He’s my operator and my employee, so I don’t want him in trouble for anything. It’s my responsibility and I intend to make it right.”