VOL. 121 | NO. 132 | Thursday, June 29, 2006
A GRAVE SITUATION
By Andy Meek
HOME ON THE RANGE: Memphis attorney James Blount soon will move his practice to Criss Cross Lodge, part of a proposed development in Collierville that may cause the relocation of four graves in the area. -- Photograph Courtesy By Andy Meek
Sometime in mid-July, the Sons of Confederate Veterans will show up in Collierville to perform a traditional military ceremony, with friends and family members on hand to observe.
The main order of business will be to relocate the remains of Civil War veteran James M. Northcross from a family plot to a new site in Collierville's Magnolia Cemetery. All of the work will be carefully orchestrated by the Memphis-based urban archaeology firm Weaver and Associates, the same firm that excavated the FedExForum site in 2002.
A typical example of historical, small-town pageantry, perhaps?
No, this is a story about a real estate development in one of Memphis' most prosperous suburbs, and it starts with the life and death of a statesman, Civil War veteran and business owner from long ago.
Moving out, moving in
A development partnership, Premier of 1950 West Poplar LLC, is nearly finished with the state-mandated work it's had to do to build a new residential and office project in Collierville. By coincidence, the site it has chosen is atop a tract of land that includes the graves of Northcross and three family members.
Plans for the proposed Criss Cross Village call for the construction of a new road - Criss Cross Lane - directly over the spot where the Northcrosses are buried. The entire property is on the north side of Poplar Avenue, east of a Storage USA facility.
Since filing plans with the town, the developers have tracked down descendants of the Northcross family, with whom the group has helped coordinate a relocation of the graves. The group also has helped save a historic house on the 28-acre site, the Criss Cross Lodge, by virtue of a Memphis attorney who's shifting his practice to the home and renovating it.
"It's a neat old house," said Edward Peel, a spokesman for Premier of 1950 West Poplar. The hexagon-shaped structure was designed by architect Bayard Snowden Cairns, whose firm also designed such famous Memphis structures as the Chisca Hotel at 272 S. Main St. and the Shrine Building at 66 Monroe Ave.
LOOKING CLOSELY: Memphis-based urban archaeology firm Weaver and Associates was hired in late 2005 to study the Northcross family cemetery, which lies squarely in the path of a planned office development in Collierville. -- Photograph Courtesy Of Weaver And Associates
Peel said attorney James Blount will be moving his office to the house.
"That was a big deal for Collierville, to retain that house," Peel said.
Getting the thumbs-up
Meanwhile, the developers had to abide by state law in moving the graves. They filed a suit in Shelby County Chancery Court, for example, to terminate the site as a cemetery. Friday is when they expect to have the approval they need to continue with the relocation.
On the one hand, they suggest, real estate developers may be infamous for clear-cutting trees, knocking down relics of the past or riding roughshod over untouched landscapes. But especially in Collierville, how many would go to the trouble of saving a grave?
"The family is behind us 100 percent on this," Peel said. "Ordinarily, people might otherwise think of us as the bad guys on this."
It's a unique story for the Memphis region, let alone Collierville. Landowners and town officials there have fought several high-profile battles against preservationists in recent years, involving landmarks such as the DeLoach House and the former home of prominent Memphian Lucius Burch.
The latter was torn down to make way for a shopping center, of which the anchor tenant is now a Home Depot. The DeLoach House - the former home of town resident Josiah DeLoach and once visited by Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War - was demolished after Baptist Memorial Hospital bought the property on which it sat.
About two months ago, the Criss Cross developers hired Guy Weaver's firm to prepare a report on the property, specifically focusing on the graves. They were a little tough to find; the graves, once marked by a single headstone, had since become hidden among dirt and grass.
"So we were hired by the developers to delineate the cemetery - essentially to find the cemetery, determine how many graves were there and to help them with the legal procedure to relocate them," Weaver said.
When Northcross is re-interred at Magnolia Cemetery, off Byhalia Road, it will add to the scores of Confederate veterans already buried there. A Confederate soldier himself, Northcross was taken prisoner during the Civil War near Nashville and walked home once it was over.
How fitting, then, that his story is capable of influencing real estate development in the town today.
Researchers are certain that Northcross and his brother, Alexander Campbell Northcross, are buried in the family cemetery, according to the report prepared by Weaver's firm. Judi Birkitt, a Collierville town planner, said the Northcrosses - the namesake of a Collierville street - are one of the town's earliest families.
James M. Northcross was born in Mississippi in 1830, served in the state legislature and enlisted with the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war, he moved to the Collierville area and opened the J.M. Northcross General Store, also serving as postmaster. He died of yellow fever in 1878.
Northcross' son William would later open and run a business, the W.J. Northcross Mantel and Grate Co., on Madison Avenue in Downtown Memphis for many years. Another son, James M. Northcross Jr., was a National Guardsman who helped restore order during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
History aside, the Criss Cross Village developers lately have been working with Collierville officials to tweak the existing zoning on the property to accommodate some of the features they're planning for the project.
"What we're hoping to have is the back 20 acres of that be residential, if we can get Collierville to sign off on it," Peel said.