Gravestones in Mansfield Quaker cemetery toppled during construction of new warehouse
The mystery surrounding disturbed gravestones in a Quaker cemetery in Mansfield is focusing new attention on the issue of a warehouse sprawl.
A land developer is getting ready to build hundreds of thousands of square feet of warehouse space, and toppled the gravestones, much to the chagrin of the public.
“It's just wrong. On every level you can think of, it's wrong,” says Judy Gauntt, of the Springfield Historical Society. “I have been a lifelong Quaker and my family’s been Quaker since the 1600s.”
Quakers who settled the area dug the first graves in the cemetery and built the meetinghouse that's stood for over 200 years. It is located next to what now is Route 206.
“But when you go in and desecrate a cemetery, it doesn’t matter what’s coming in. Whether it’s a warehouse or a housing project, it just doesn’t matter,” says Gauntt. “You just don’t treat your ancestors like this.”
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Toppled gravestones can certainly look disturbing to some, and it's clear the ground has been recently tilled. But it is unclear whether there are any bodies buried there, like there are over in the cemetery by the Friends Meeting House, which currently hosts an Islamic Center.
“You just can’t build everything everywhere. Certain lands are suited for certain things,” says Tom Stevenson, of Springfield.
Stevenson and Gauntt say they are among many New Jersey residents who are taking a stand against what they say is rampant warehouse development in the state.
“What we’re doing in New Jersey is plowing under our culture, our history, our heritage,” Stevenson says. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”
Lawmakers from both parties in Trenton were interested last year in adding oversight to new warehouse development. But the Democratic Assembly speaker and state Senate president said last month they had little interest in that measure going forward.
The Mansfield Township committee banned any new warehouse construction in town on March 2, but projects approved before then will still be allowed to proceed.