Montgomery County, established 1776, county seat Rockville.
1776–present Families, property owners, and religious organizations
Early 20th century Lists and publications; Patriotic organizations and genealogists
1970s Historic sites and districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places
1976 M-NCPPC Locational Atlas & Index of Historic Sites published
1979 Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation approved and adopted
1991 Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites formed to advocate for MD cemeteries
1996-97 Peerless Rockville photography exhibit of 15 Rockville cemeteries
1997 Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight created
2004-2009 Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory compiled
2010 Enter the Digital Age
2013 William Smallwood Chapter SAR created Montgomery County Patriot Graves Registry
2016 Trader Foundation for Maryland Burial Sites incorporated
2016 Historic Maryland Cemeteries selected as Preservation Maryland Six to Fix project
2017 Montgomery County Council enacted two cemetery protection laws
2018 Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Revisited
2019 Montgomery County Planning Board adopted Burial Sites Inventory and Guidelines
2021 Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 cemetery and Moses Hall named by National Trust as one of 11 Most Endangered Sites
2021 Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled against Shoemaker family re-existence of burial site in Bethesda (see below)
Update: Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery, legal case before Maryland Court of Special Appeals
On August 13, 2021, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that as a matter of law, the Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery – a 3,630+/- square foot plot of land within 5200 Murray Road in Chevy Chase, in Montgomery County – is not protected and can be redeveloped. Current owner Paramount Construction filed a case in the Montgomery County Circuit Court in May 2018, claiming legal title, title through adverse possession, and asking that the Court find that as a factual matter no human remains are buried there. Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery straddles two current properties, with the case concerning only the portion within 5200 Murray Road.
Nancy Werner, great-great granddaughter of Isaac Shoemaker, grew up visiting the family graves with her grandfather and father, since the 1940s. A century of solid documentary evidence, including an 1883 funeral home notation confirming that Shoemaker was buried on his farm followed by a 1924 deed to the Shoemaker farm reserving a burial plot located on “the Perry boundary line near River Road; containing 1/7 of an acre,” supports the Shoemaker descendants’ belief that Isaac Shoemaker, his wife and several other persons were interred here between 1853 and 1883.
In 2016 Paramount purchased the property for redevelopment purposes, specifically to demolish an existing single-family home and replace it with a larger one. It claimed legal title, and alternatively title through adverse possession. Werner claimed that she and other Shoemaker descendants continue to hold legal title to the burial ground subject to the 1924 deed reservation, and as a result Paramount would not have the legal right to enter the burial ground, let alone disturb it.
The trial court ruled in favor of Paramount on all claims, as did the Court of Special Appeals. Regrettably, the courts chose to overlook critical facts in reaching their conclusions, including: relying on the lack of grave markers at the time of trial (disregarding Ms. Werner’s testimony that she personally saw grave markers through the 1970s); accepting at face value the testimony of Paramount’s expert witness that there were no grave sites (notwithstanding his concession that the lack of grave markers is not dispositive of whether bodies are buried here); minimizing the importance of periwinkle at the site; failing to give weight to later plats reserving a “burial ground” that included the gravesites; accepting inaccurate statements about Maryland tax exempt status still in place; and concluding that later Planning Board subdivision actions provided evidence in support of a finding that no burial ground exists.
This is a regrettable – but not uncommon – outcome. It reminds us of the need for what Thomas Jefferson called “eternal vigilance” of our historic sites. It inspires us to identify all known burial sites, even those on which markers can no longer be seen above ground. The Shoemaker family and the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, advocate for Statewide legislation since the 1990s, and Montgomery Preservation, instrumental in the County Council’s decision to pass local cemetery protection laws in 2017, are disappointed in this decision, which ended considerable efforts to protect this sacred ground over many years. They sincerely thank those, including neighbors, family members, and organizations, who contributed cash and in-kind services, to appeal the Circuit Court decision to the Court of Special Appeals.
The house at 5200 Murray Road was razed this summer. Unfortunately, although this family cemetery is listed in the Planning Board’s Burial Sites Inventory, it is not protected by Montgomery County law because it is not undergoing subdivision. County laws established the Inventory and now requires all cemeteries to be identified and considered throughout the subdivision process. On the other hand, once construction starts for a new residence, if any human remains are found, Maryland law provides certain protections, including a requirement to halt construction until the situation is sorted out. Maryland also encourages access by persons of interest and requires that the owner consult with the Maryland Historical Trust before moving forward with building plans. In addition, we believe the owner should accept his expert’s suggestion that an archaeologist be present during construction.
The Court of Appeals decision is “unreported,” meaning it does not establish any binding legal precedent, which we view as positive. The Court of Appeals decision may be found at: https://www.courts.state.md.us/sites/default/files/unreported-opinions/2401s19.pdf
Montgomery Preservation, Inc.
August 30, 2021
Montgomery County – Sailor, Maryland’s Public Information Network
Montgomery County Website
Montgomery County Public Library
21 Maryland Avenue, Suite 310
Rockville, MD 20850
Montgomery County Circuit Court
50 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory
Montgomery County Historical Society (MCHS)
111 West Montgomery Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
Genealogical Club of the MCHS
Maryland Tombstone Transcription Project for Montgomery County
Montgomery Preservation, Inc.
Archaeological Society of Maryland, Mid-Potomac Chapter
Montgomery County, MD Patriot Grave Registry