Judge orders family to move graves to make way for development

By Amy Leigh Womack

A Bibb County judge has ordered the removal of Civil War-era gravesites at the center of a dispute between a family and a developer.

In his order, Superior Court Judge Tilman E. "Tripp" Self III gave descendants of Joseph Follendore and his two sons until Jan. 14 to decide where to move the men’s graves.

Follendore, a German immigrant and Civil War veteran, and his two sons, Joseph Jr. and Noah, lived between 1818 and 1882. They are buried on a small plot of land in the center of what used to be the elder Follendore’s 600-acre produce farm.

Now, Moon Family Properties is developing a 1,000-acre residential and commercial development on the former Follendore farm off Hartley Bridge Road.

In the hearing that lasted through Thursday morning and into the afternoon, several descendants objected to moving the graves.

"I feel it’s a moral obligation of ours to leave people interred where they desired to be," said Gary Thomas, a descendant who grew up near the old Follendore land.

Robert P. Riezinger of Jones County said his family has long been interested in family genealogy.

"It’s not just dirt," Riezinger said, adding the graves have a special meaning for his father, who also happens to be a Civil War history buff. "It’s his family."

The elder Riezinger said finding the cemetery was a great discovery, and if nothing else, he envisioned the graves being preserved as a green space within the proposed development.

"This is my great-great grandfather, and I’d like to keep him where he’s at," said Robert E. Riezinger of Putnam County. "It looked like the perfect place to be buried."

Sitting on the opposite side of the courtroom from the rest of the descendants, Grady Folendore of Warner Robins told the court he wants the graves moved so they will be maintained in a church cemetery where the family held membership.

Folendore, a descendant although his branch of the family tree spells their name differently, said he has arranged with nearby New Elim Baptist Church to purchase space in the same plot where Joseph Follendore’s wife and daughter are buried.

"Everything looks nice out there," he said. "I feel the family needs to be together. I’m in hope we’ll be able to unite (the family)."

Folendore said he also has asked that urns be installed on each of the five graves so he can bring flowers to the cemetery.

Myles Bland, an archaeologist hired by Moon Family Properties to survey the cemetery, told the court the cemetery had been abandoned and his crews had to saw through trees to get to the graves.

"It had been several years since anyone maintained the area," he said, adding his crew discovered weathered plastic flowers dating to the 1960s under piles of leaves.

In issuing his ruling, Self told the family he empathized with their position.

"But I don’t know anything to do other than to move the bodies," he said.

The judge reasoned that Moon Family Properties owns the land and is entitled to the rights of a property owner. By petitioning for the graves to be moved, he said, the developers are abiding by the law.

Self gave the descendants until Jan. 14 to decide where the graves will be relocated. Unless the descendants find a better location, Self said the bodies will be reinterred at the New Elim Baptist Church cemetery off Hartley Bridge Road.

The court would allow for the remains to be exhumed as early as Jan. 15, he said.

Moon Family Properties will pay the costs of moving the graves, estimated at $8,655 for the human remains and $1,875 for the grave markers.

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