Finance and Administration Cabinet
Unearthing of remains found at Eastern State Hospital scheduled to begin tomorrow
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 22, 2011) —On Feb. 23, 2011, the Finance and Administration Cabinet’s Division of Engineering and a team of archeologists from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey are scheduled to begin exhuming human remains found in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of Eastern State Hospital (ESH) in Lexington. The graves are located where crews are preparing for the scheduled construction of a new Bluegrass Community Technical College (BCTC). The remains are believed to be those of patients at ESH buried between 1840 and 1860.
When Gov. Steve Beshear first announced plans relocate ESH to University of Kentucky’s Coldstream Research Campus and to develop a BCTC campus on the grounds of ESH in February 2008, the Division of Engineering proactively contacted the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, which is jointly administered by the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology and the Kentucky Heritage Council.. Anticipating the discovery of unmarked graves, the Kentucky Archaeological Survey was hired at that time to survey the grounds in a systematic effort to locate any undocumented cemeteries on the existing hospital grounds.
“Throughout this process, it is important that we preserve the grounds of this historic site and treat any remains discovered with the utmost respect and dignity,” said Gov. Beshear. “Although we may never be able to identify the individuals found, we can still ensure they get a proper burial in the designated Eastern State Hospital Cemetery.”
“This is a very meticulous, systematic approach to ensure the remains are treated with care and respect, and the history of the hospital is fully documented,” said Dr. David Pollack, director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey. “The Finance Cabinet has also asked for our help in documenting any significant archeological deposits relating to the hospital.”
The process of unearthing the remains is expected to be completed by April 1 unless progress is delayed due to inclement weather. The remains will then be sent to the University of Kentucky’s Laboratory of Archeological Research to be processed and examined then reinterred within the defined cemetery on the hospital grounds.
The Finance Cabinet has improved the previously overgrown and dilapidated cemetery by adding new fencing, a new gated, arched entry with a sign, landscaping and a designated area to consolidate existing memorial plaques.
Pollack predicts more than 50 bodies are buried in an area that measures 25 feet by 150 feet. Some of the shafts may be single graves while others may contain more than one body. Simple wooden coffins were used during the early to mid-nineteenth century. Though most of the wood has since deteriorated, by recording the location of the coffin nails, the size and shape of the coffin can be determined. However, there are no headstones or other markers that could be used to determined the identity of each person.
Due to the age of the remains, Pollack says it will be extremely difficult to associate the bodies with any particular individual because specific death records and historic documents are not available.
The Finance Cabinet architects and engineers and the team of archeologists have also been working closely with BCTC, the Kentucky Heritage Council, Eastern State Hospital Cemetery Club and other preservation organizations in an effort to be sensitive to the historical value of the property and to protect the dignity of the remains.
Eastern State Hospital first admitted patients in 1824 and still houses approximately 150 patients. In 2008, it was agreed that the hospital would relocate to a site off of Newtown Pike and a new BCTC campus would be constructed on the existing grounds. The construction of both facilities and full relocation will occur in 2013.
In 2005, graves were encountered on the Eastern State Hospital property during the construction of a new waterline. At that time, the Kentucky Archaeological Survey recovered the remains of 11 individuals, who subsequently were reinterred in the marked cemetery.
The Finance and Administration Cabinet, Division of Engineering and Contract Administration, provides professional architectural and engineering assistance to state agencies on new construction projects and major renovation or maintenance projects.