Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tombstone rip rap  - Potomac River

Sunday morning (see yesterday's post) we waded ashore to explore along the river, which at this point is lined with rip rap to protect the narrow spit of land that separates the Potomac River from the Chotank wetlands. From a distance, this rip rap looks like the typical broken chunks of concrete and rocky debris that are commonly used for this purpose. The tide was out, making it easy to walk along the bank, and we soon discovered tombstones, scattered among the debris.

Some of the grave markers were broken or badly worn, others were remarkably clean and crisp. The dates on the markers ranged from the early 1800s to the middle of the 1900s. There were also pedestals, foot stones and other cemetery artifacts. Several dozen markers were visible along the portion of the rip rap that we walked; no doubt many more were submerged beneath the rip rap.  The presence of the tombstones was a mystery.

Research on the web revealed that the stones came from Washington, D.C.  when the Columbian Harmony Cemetery was relocated to make room for development in 1960. The tombstones were left behind, and at least some of them were hauled away and ended up along the shore of the Potomac, some 75 miles away.

For more on this remarkable story, see this article.

Also, the Smithsonian Institution's archives has pictures of the Columbian Harmony Cemetery from 1960.

Today, a Metro station and shopping center occupy the land where the cemetery once stood.

These tombstones were all photographed exactly as they were found. They were not moved or cleaned in any way. Click on the pictures to enlarge


  1. Wow...that is really kind of spooky. I am shocked that they would be allowed to scatter these remnants as they have. Isnt that in some way property of the families? Weird. And I noticed the one inscribed Lee and I wonder if I have any relation to that particular headstone? What an interesting thing to come across on a trip down the river!

  2. I wonder about the ownership of the markers too. Why weren't the tombstones relocated when they moved the graves? In any event you would think that the markers would be the property of the families. The whole thing is really strange.

  3. Could you tell me where this is located? I discovered today that my husband's family were among those reinterred to the newer cemetery. They have no headstones and I would love to look for their headstones in this place. I wouldn't take them, but would love to have pictures if we can find their stones.

    1. Cherlyn, This is located about 75 miles below Washington on the Virginia side of the Potomac. I am not sure that it is accessible by land. I prefer not to give the exact location publicly, but will gladly share the details with you if you will get in touch via the Contact form ("Contact Me" near the top of the right-hand sidebar). Thanks, Edd


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