Historic grave in middle of road to be lowered

A unique landmark dating back to 1831 will be moved and replaced starting next month.

The grave of Nancy Kerlin Barnett — known as the grave in the middle of the road — will be removed and then moved lower into the ground for safer keeping. County Road East 400S is divided for a few hundred feet, with Barnett’s grave in the median, with a historic marker on site.

Motorists have disrupted the grave over the years, either by accidents occurring in the median of the road or farm equipment scraping alongside the grave site, Johnson County Commissioner Brian Baird said. Since 2010, three accidents have occurred near the grave in the middle of the road, according to records from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

County officials will be spending about $10,000 to have an archaeologist dig up the remains, then bringing in the Johnson County Highway Department to dig deeper into the ground and install new curbing or a retaining wall. The Johnson County Historical Society donated $1,000 to the county construction project to preserve the site.

The new barrier will protect the grave and vehicles driving along County Road East 400E, highway director Luke Mastin said.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping to lower the grave so it’s not at risk of being hit if there is an accident in that location,” Mastin said.

While building a higher barrier and temporarily moving the grave site, the road will be closed for at least a month during the project, Mastin said.

Because Barnett was buried before 1940, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ division of historic preservation and archaeology has to oversee the moving of the grave site.

Even though motorists disturbed the grave site, commissioners did not want to move Barnett’s grave since her family members fought to keep her in that location more than a century ago, Baird said.

“That’s where she wanted to be buried, and I don’t think she intended for the road to be going around her, but just out of respect, we want to lower it and protect it,” Baird said.

Barnett’s grave has been at that location since 1831, when the land was still part of a cemetery. When the cemetery was relocated around 1912, relatives of Barnett demanded that the grave site remain where she was laid to rest, even though it was going to be in the path of a county road, said Johnson County Museum of History director David Pfeiffer.

When Barnett was alive, that spot was a favorite of hers because she loved to look over Sugar Creek, Pfeiffer said.