TOMBALL, Texas -- A historical marker has been added to the northeast corner of Spring Creek Park in Tomball to commemorate the recent discovery of a pre-Civil War cemetery that may contain the graves of freed slaves and other early Tomball-area settlers.
Now named Spring Creek Cemetery the six-acre site is fenced off and protected while historians and archaeologists remove trees and brush that have obscured the site since the last recorded burial there in 1935. Historians believe the site was first used as a cemetery as early as 1828.
"We're finding handmade tombstones down underground," said Janet Wagner, the chair of the Harris County Historical Commission who says the site could potentially hold hundreds of graves. So far the only gravestone with any legible engraving contains the initials "A.W." Wagner believes it might be a man named Alex Whitfield.
"This could be a member of the Whitfield or West or Wright families, all of which were names of freed slaves in the area," said Wagner. "Many of the German families who settled this region beginning in the 1820's did not believe in slavery," she said adding to the belief that settlers, black and white, might be buried at the site. Archaeologists will also try to determine if the graves contain the remains of victims of an infamous Confederate Army gunpowder mill explosion in the area that reportedly claimed dozens of lives in 1863.
"It's history for our children to learn how we came from here and what all we did to come to where we are now," said Naomi Wuensche who was among dozens of descendants of pioneer settlers who attended the unveiling of the historical marker Wednesday afternoon.
Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle told the crowd the discovery is a chance to celebrate the unexpected diversity of a bygone era where people of all races lived, worked, and are likely buried at the site side by side.
"Because we can learn both from what was done wrong and we can learn from what was done right," said Cagle. "We didn't know exactly what we had, but we wanted to preserve the dignity of this cemetery that had clearly been forgotten. What has been discovered in archaeological and historical terms merits preservation and further study into the local history."
As for Janet Wagner she will work with archaeologists as they determine how many graves are here and who these people were. Standing at the gravestone marked "A.W." she indicated it's an eerie but rewarding feeling.
"I feel like I'm walking through history," she said, "from what people who were here, that were building log cabins, growing their vegetables. I can feel them," she said.
In the coming months experts will continue to search for additional graves, enlist the help of experts with ground penetrating radar, and scour historical records to determine the full historical significance of the site. For now the site is fenced off from the general public but private group tours might be offered as the preservation process proceeds.