As contractors tear down the sprawling old brick building to return a portion of the grounds to the county school system, a lot of people are looking out for signs of what may have been an old cemetery, officials said.
Brunswick is getting the public park back that it gave the county Board of Education for the Glynn Middle School. The city’s getting that land back in exchange for giving up another piece for the new Glynn Middle School.
Asked about the cemetery, Mayor Bryan Thompson said, “Isn’t that cool?”
A couple of archaeologists have already looked at the site but couldn’t tell much because the northern half of Wright Square is under concrete slabs. The other half is still a shaded park across George Street.
“The demolition crew is going to tread as lightly as they can,” Thompson said. “Then we’ll come in with a straight blade and look for discoloration.”
The city is in better shape than most to figure things out because City Manager Bill Weeks is an archaeologist by avocation.
“I keep my shovel in the back of my car,’’ Weeks said. “I’m as anxious as anyone to see what’s over there.”
Weeks, who has worked on several plantation graveyards in South Carolina’s low country, said graves are relatively easy to find. The archaeologist has only to skim off the top layer of earth until he sees some rectangles of soil that doesn’t match the earth around them. That mismatch results because soil layers aren’t put back into graves in the order they’re dug out, he said.
“If we find anything, our intentions would be to do an investigation and delineate it to preserve it,’’ Weeks said.
Thompson said there would also have to be some sort of marker to explain the history.
Al Boudreau, operations director for the school system, said the demolition contractors will begin making progress soon in tearing down the old building.
If there’s anything to be found, it’s most likely under the cafeteria slab, Boudreau said, but he doubts that.
When some fuel oil tanks were put into the ground years ago, no bones were spotted, he said.
Brunswick’s first public “burying ground’’ in Wright Square was already disturbed in the 1890s when workers were hand-digging a sewer line. The April 4, 1894, edition of the Brunswick Times-Advertiser reported that the crew unearthed bones with about every spade full of dirt “until a good-sized heap of bones were dug out.
Part of Wright Square was used as a public cemetery in Brunswick’s early days when most of the houses and businesses were west along the North River, the newspaper said.
The discovery of an old cemetery didn’t stop progress. Some of the graves already had been moved to what is now historic Oak Grove Cemetery and eventually the last tombstone was removed. Then the city chain gang, commanded by Capt. Lewis Harris, graded the cemetery and turned it into a park.