Developer Keystone Group has discovered “fragments of human remains” at the Eleven Park construction site in downtown Indianapolis, on property that was mostly occupied by the city’s first public cemetery in the 1800s.
The remains were found at the north end of the site, a spokesperson for Keystone confirmed Tuesday in an email.
Keystone has begun early construction efforts on the proposed $1 billion development, which is expected to include a 20,000-seat Indy Eleven soccer stadium, at least five 10- to 20-story apartment buildings, a hotel and office space, and a 4,000-seat entertainment venue.
The site was most recently home to the Diamond Chain Co., which operated at the property for more than a century. Its massive plant at 402 Kentucky Ave., built in 1918, has been demolished.
Keystone Group said it “identified isolated areas of interest” at the site in coordination with Zionsville-based archaeology consultant Weintraut & Associates Inc. and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources/Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, or IDNR/DHPA.
“Weintraut and Associates along with the IDNR/DHPA are conducting a thorough and respectful analysis” of the fragments, the company said in a written statement. “The discoveries are all undergoing and adhering to strict identification protocols. The discoveries will be properly catalogued and subsequently reinterned at the discretion of the IDNR/DHPA and Keystone Group. As construction continues at the site, Keystone Group, Weintraut and Associates, and the IDNR/DHPA will continue to follow the lawful guidelines at both the state and local level with the utmost sensitivity.”
The site selection has been a source of controversy. A portion of the property served as the city’s first public burial grounds, starting in 1821, with that land being named Greenlawn Cemetery in 1860, according to records from the Indiana Historical Society and research by DeeDee Davis, a digital scholarship services specialist at IUPUI’s Herron Art Library. The remains of thousands of Black residents were buried at part of Greenlawn, also known as the City Cemetery and Union Cemetery.
The cemetery, which eventually encompassed most of the nearly 18-acre site, included an area set aside for Confederate soldiers who died at the Indianapolis prisoner of war camp, with a monument erected in 1909 to honor those soldiers. (It was later moved to Garfield Park.)
While most of the graves were moved to the Crown Hill and Holy Cross cemeteries by the early 1900s, not all of them made it out before the site was sold for redevelopment in 1914—first as a baseball stadium for the short-lived Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Federal League and three years later as the manufacturing facility.
The Confederate soldiers’ remains were moved in 1931, when a Crown Hill plot was dedicated for that purpose.
But records of other remaining graves had slipped through the cracks. In fact, multiple graves were uncovered at the site over the years, often during expansion or remodeling by Diamond Chain. The most recent discovery was in 1999, when two graves were unearthed as part of an effort to accommodate new machinery by lowering part of the facility’s floor.
Some historians have called for a full archaeological dig of the site, while parties representing both the Keystone Group development and the city’s planned adjacent Henry Street Bridge project decided on a plan that includes halting construction when remains are identified rather than searching for remains first. Any remains would be examined by researchers at IUPUI.
Members of the Indiana Remembrance Coalition called on the city to follow a 1923 state law that would have required the city to excavate and remove all human remains before the site could be used for any other purpose. But corporation counsel for the city told IBJ in November that the law no longer holds any weight. It was not codified into the Indiana Code in the 1970s, and any statutes not incorporated into the code were repealed at that time.
The group’s members first raised concerns in May about disturbing the site and restated them Nov. 20 before a City-County Council committee unanimously advanced a tax district proposal that would fund the Indy Eleven soccer stadium. The city also plans to build a bridge in the area by extending Henry Street over the White River.
At the committee meeting, consultant Linda Weintraut of Weintraut & Associates said uncertainty over whether any remains would be found made the current plan more feasible.
“We don’t know if we’re going to encounter none, you know, five, 50 what—we just don’t know,” she said.
Keystone Group said it was committed to commemorating those who might still be buried at the site.
“Keystone Group views these discoveries as an opportunity to correct past mishandlings by previous ownership and to respectfully relocate and honor what may be found,” it said. “Keystone continues to work with community organizations who look to honor the memory of those who may have been buried at Greenlawn. These discussions are ongoing as the project progresses and an appropriate memorial will be included in project completion.”