While performing a scat tour for their “Introduction to Ecology” class, three students came across previously found dug-up grave sites on the Pagebrook Property owned by the University of Richmond. 

On Jan. 27, seniors Meghan Dillon, Alex Carroll and Danielle Holliday worked together in their assigned group to execute what is known as a scat tour. This tour, which was assigned by their professor Jennifer Sevin, a visiting biology lecturer, requires students to tour an outdoor area while searching for and identifying the feces of different animals Holliday said. 

Upon concluding their work at the Pagebrook Property, they discovered what seemed to be aged gravestones.

“We didn’t see that much because we literally had no idea what we had found,” Holliday said. “There were a couple of signs for gravestones, and the land had a huge dip in front of the gravestones so it looked like there weren’t any bodies left there.”

The students believed they had been the first to come across these graves, but biology professor Peter Smallwood said UR had been aware of them since before the purchase of the property in 2001

“This has been known for decades,” Smallwood said. “I found [the gravesites] in 2001 or 2002. Two of the gravestones have names. They died in the early 1920s.”

Pagebrook Drive runs through what is known as the Pagebrook Property, which was purchased by UR as an option for future building projects, such as a football stadium, Smallwood said. At the time, the Spiders football team was still playing off campus at City Stadium in Richmond according to the stadium’s official website. However, construction for the new E. Claiborne Robins Stadium, located on UR’s campus, began in 2008. The stadium opened for the 2010-2011 season, with the Spiders playing their first game on their new turf on Sept. 18, 2010.

The property covers 109 acres, and Smallwood, along with Robert Kenzer, a retired UR history and American studies professor, has explored the area and its gravestones, which are located in a few places on the property, Smallwood said.

“It looks as if there are a couple dozen gravesites,” Smallwood said. “It looks to me as if they’ve been moved. What you see are divots.”

Kenzer looked into the name on one of the headstones by reaching out to a mortuary company, Kenzer said. But, he was unsuccessful in gaining any new information, he said.

Smallwood said that with any gravesite, there should typically be a church nearby. Smallwood also said he once had ventured across Pagebrook Drive to the side opposite the headstones and found a large cement slab.

He believed this cement was where a church had once stood, he said. Based on the ages of the trees surrounding the area of the gravestones and the ages of the headstones, Smallwood said the church had most likely been abandoned in the 1920s.

Smallwood also speculated that the church had belonged to the black community and had been burnt down.

“The 1920s and into the ’30s was a violent time in Richmond in terms of race relations,” Smallwood said. “I wonder if the church was burnt down, if there is nothing there but the slab. And why would someone just abandon a graveyard?”

Smallwood hopes the UR administration will look further into the history of the gravesites and potential church in the future, he said. 

David Hale, the executive vice president and chief operating officer at UR, wrote in an email to The Collegian that the Pagebrook Property will remain in the hands of UR but that there are no current plans for development.

Contact news writer Liv Ronca at liv.ronca@richmond.edu.