As the community prepares to start work on a new park at Loridans Drive and Ga. 400 in North Buckhead, the design is getting a tweak due to a historic cemetery on the site turning out to contain roughly twice as many graves as expected.

A final design of the Loridans Greenspace, drawn by the nonprofit Park Pride. (Special)

The 1.5-acre site of the park, known as the Loridans Greenspace, is nestled next to the Loridans Drive bridge over Ga. 400, just south of the Sandy Springs border. The 5.2-mile PATH400 multiuse trail will eventually run through the site.

In community meetings last year, the nonprofit group Park Pride worked the public to develop a design vision for the park. Andrew White, a Park Pride landscape architect, reviewed the final design at the March 19 annual meeting of the North Buckhead Civic Association.

The design packs a variety of uses into the relatively small space, including nature trails, a children’s play area, a lawn and a small entrance plaza.

Another feature is protecting and memorializing a roughly 170-year-old cemetery with signage, a wrought-iron perimeter fence, and blank headstones erected on the largely unmarked graves. However, that part of the park will be significantly bigger than expected after a survey found at least 60 graves rather than the previously estimated 30. That will mean a design tweak, White said.

Livable Buckhead, the organization conducting the PATH400 construction, commissioned a company called New South Associates to perform an archaeological survey of the cemetery. It’s known as the Lowry-Stevens Cemetery after its few known burials, starting with James Lowry Jr., who is listed in historical records as having been killed by a neighbor in 1852 in a “property dispute.” Some park planners and residents speculate that “property” may have meant an enslaved person and that the unmarked cemetery graves may be those of slaves.

Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett in 1930 estimated that the cemetery contained roughly 30 graves, but he did not conduct a thorough investigation. Some of the graves had marked headstones at the time, which have since been stolen, lost or removed. Others appear to be marked with blank fieldstones.

The locations of 60 possible graves in the Lowry-Stephens Cemetery as identified by New South Associates in an archaeological survey report commissioned by Livable Buckhead.

New South’s survey report says it estimated a count of graves first by counting 28 fieldstones that appeared to be markers, and by noting depressions in the ground that are characteristic of burials. Surveyors also probed the ground with rods to check for looser soil underground that they say is also characteristic of graves. That led them to conservatively estimate 60 graves and to establish a grave-free “buffer,” 10 meters wide, around the known cemetery site in which nothing should be built in case there are more. The entire cemetery area is now roughly a half-acre.

The city owns the property, but does not fund the design or construction of such neighborhood parks. Instead, residents are expected to come up with a vision and form a nonprofit to hire someone to design and build it, often in stages. Park Pride specializes in leading the process.

Gordon Certain, president of the civic association, said residents still need to form a Loridans Greenspace committee. Early volunteer work is already underway, starting with a site cleanup in late March.

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