Tags: Government & News & Crime
Martha McConnell, co-president of the Historical Society of Forsyth County, displays pictures of the graves she took in 2005. (click for larger version)
Headstones at the Mathis Airport in Suwanee were removed and paved over, the property owner says he was cleaning them. (click for larger version)
August 19, 2013FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Headstones taken from a family cemetery located on an airport runway were done so for restoration, the seller of the property has said.
Late last month, someone removed headstones from the Anglin Cemetery, located on the runway of Mathis Airport in Suwanee.
Several concerned area residents alerted the Historical Society of Forsyth County, which is headed by Martha McConnell and her husband Jimmy McConnell.
The McConnells called Forsyth County Sheriff's Office who launched an investigation.
Because cemeteries are protected under Forsyth County and state law, Martha McConnell said nothing can be moved without a family's consent.
"Anything placed at a grave is called a burial object," McConnell said.
That includes fencing, fill stones, headstones and even wooden crosses.
After the headstones were removed, numerous calls were placed with the Historical Society.
Joe Voyles, who runs the now bankrupt Flyboy Aviation Properties, told the Forsyth Herald he removed the headstones after rain flooded the runway. His goal was to restore the headstones, not to dispose of them or hide them.
"I set up the sandblaster to do a restoration for them," Voyles said. "I've spoken with relatives and assured them that we are restoring the headstones."
After the headstones were removed, Voyles placed fresh asphalt and this caused even more concern, McConnell said.
Voyles said this was done as a safety precaution.
"The stones are 2-inches thick and because aircraft tires are very small and you run the risk of a tire falling in it or somebody walking the runway and twisting their ankle," Voyles said.
JEH Homes, the potential new owners of the property, plan a housing community dubbed The Cottages at Mathis Field.
They have told Voyles that part of their green space will be dedicated to the cemetery.
"They're going to take the gates of the airport and work them into the cemetery area and it's going to be a nice memorial," Voyles said.
Ethan Underwood, who represents JEH Homes, told the Forsyth County News last week the developer would not disturb the cemetery.
The airport, built in 1959, has 26 hangers and about 16 airplanes. Several airplanes were seen flying out of the airport recently.
In the 1960s, the Mathises were given permission from the Anglin family to lay down headstones and sometime in the last few years, the graves were incorporated under the runway.
Some Anglin family members, who now live in Banks County, told the Historical Society there were several more graves there and that only headstones with inscriptions were set down at the time. There are perhaps 16 to 20 people buried there, McConnell said.
"Our purpose is that the graves are not being disturbed," McConnell said.
McConnell said she's hopeful the future owners of the property — JEH Homes — will keep their word because she's worked with them before on preserving another cemetery with a great success.
"I'm really assured that if this land deal goes through, the graves will remain there," McConnell said.
The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office has not yet wrapped-up their investigation.