The Charleston Housing Authority had expected to uncover dozens of human remains at a former cemetery property on the peninsula, where the authority plans to build apartments, but instead found nearly 350 sets of remains on the small site.
The months-long process of uncovering the remains and moving them to Bethany Cemetery for reinterment was handled by Brockington Associates, which is working on a final report about the cemetery.
"We had individual graves, and what may have been family members buried together, and at least two areas that seemed to be mass graves," said Charles F. Philips Jr., senior historian with Brockington Associates.
He said the mass graves were probably used for victims of yellow fever.
"Yellow fever is like Malaria," Philips said. "It's carried by the mosquito and was very deadly in the 19th century."
The former Hampstedt Cemetery, affiliated with what is now St. Matthew's
Lutheran Church, had been in private hands since the time of the Great Depression, when it was seized and then sold by the city because of an unpaid assessment for street paving. The Housing Authority bought the land on Reid Street in 1981, not knowing that it was a former cemetery until bone fragments were found during site preparation work.
The authority let the property sit vacant until this year, then decided to proceed with the costly process of uncovering and reinterring the remains. The original estimate was that between 30 and 60 sets of remains would be found.
"It's a lot more than we anticipated," Housing Authority Director Don Cameron said. "It cost a good deal of money."
The cost so far has been about $153,000, and the final bills aren't in yet, he said.
Philips said the Housing Authority property covered only about two-fifths of the former cemetery. The rest of the cemetery is today beneath private homes on Reid, Hanover and Amherst streets.
Of the nearly 350 sets of remains uncovered, Philips said his company was able to identify fewer than a dozen.
"There were tin tags with some of the remains that had been painted with names and sometimes dates," he said. "Even after 150 years under ground, we were able to read them."
There also were indications that Charleston's German community was better off financially than had been thought, Philips said.
"We found lots of indications of wealth," he said. "Most of them had coffins. We found jewelry, coins and gold in some of the teeth."
The last of the remains were removed from the property last week, Cameron said.
St. Matthew's Lutheran Church officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
Now that the remains have been relocated, the Housing Authority is awaiting word on a grant applications for federal stimulus funding that the authority would use to build energy-efficient apartments on the site, and to renovate an existing apartment house next door.
If the $1.8 million grant is not approved, Cameron said, then the authority will look for other sources of funding.
"We feel pretty good about it," Cameron said.