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Looking for the lost
City seeks slave graves in Turner Lake Park
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Before Turner Lake Park ever existed, hundreds of acres of cotton spanned the horizon, picked by slaves for decades leading up to the Civil War.

While the names and gravesites of the property owners - the Harmon and Hendricks families - are recorded in history, the identities and burial sites of the 50-plus slaves who worked and lived on the land have become a mystery.

Truth be told, their gravesites may never be found because the graves were likely disturbed when the Brown Bridge Crossing subdivision, which borders the park, was built. However, local black historian Forrest Sawyer asked the city to at least search the area. City officials agreed to pick up the cost, while the county gave permission to have the area searched.

Len Strozier, owner of Omega Mapping Services, had recently been hired by the city to use ground-penetrating radar to find unmarked graves - likely of paupers and slaves - in the city's Southview and Westview cemeteries. He and his son Ben used the same technology in Turner Lake Park Thursday.

They didn't find anything, but they'll give it another try today.

The only marked graves belong to the family of Jacob and Anna Harmon; a small family cemetery has been preserved in Brown Bridge Crossing. If the slaves were buried far enough away, a few may still be located.

Even if the graves remain undisturbed in the woods, Ben said the level of debris, namely decades of leaves, will make it difficult for the radar to detect remains.

However, the Stroziers and Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson are hoping that the vinca minor (periwinkle) ground cover next to the site of the former homestead may be a clue. Periwinkle was commonly used to cover grave sites in generations past.

Though the house is long gone, part of the chimney and foundation remain, along with the family well and the old roadbed, likely the former path of Old Brown Bridge Road. One of Turner Lake's trails passes right by the homestead, which has a historical marker.

The Stroziers will search several acres surrounding the former homestead.

Ground-penetrating radar involves transmitting radar waves from a surface antenna, reflecting them off buried discontinuities and measuring the elapsed time before the reflections are received again at the surface, according to the Society for American Archaeology.

Ben said he and his father aren't looking for visuals of skeleton remains - the system doesn't work like that - but rather air pockets which could signify a grave.

In the future, the city or county may be able to search the area of Brown Bridge Crossing surrounding the Harmon cemetery, but that property is private and the homeowner's association that owns is defunct.

For now, all curious residents have are vague slave census records and a handful of memories.