A public ceremony and reburial this spring will end a long and expensive journey for many of the human remains exhumed from First Street Cemetery more than a decade ago.

The city-appointed First Street Cemetery Committee on Thursday set the ceremony for 4:30 p.m. May 17 at Rosemound Cemetery, featuring speeches by local ministers and civic leaders.

About 200 unmarked graves were discovered and exhumed in 2007 to make room for utility lines leading to a new annex for the Texas Ranger Museum Hall of Fame and Museum. Archaeologists have been studying and documenting the bones and grave goods since then under a permit from the Texas Historical Commission, and the city of Waco has spent about $2 million on the process.

Most of the remains have been stored in Austin, but they are gradually being shipped in cedar boxes for reburial in Waco.

In recent months, the city of Waco has spent about $30,000 creating a stone-walled enclosure at Rosemound Cemetery for reburying the remains, some of which date to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Rosemound is located at 3201 S. 12th St.

First Street Cemetery Committee chairman John Wilson said the process of returning the bones to the ground has been slow and painstaking, but he believes it will be respectful to the dead.

“This group of people has really felt a civic duty as well as a duty to the individuals they didn’t know who were laid to rest,” said Wilson, who is also director of Baylor University’s Texas Collection.

He said the committee insisted on using cedar rather than cardboard boxes and on creating a decorative enclosure surrounded by crape myrtle trees. Historic markers have already been installed at First Street and Rosemound cemeteries to provide information about the graves.

Record-keeping was poor for the old First Street cemetery, which was created in the 1850s, and none of the remains have been positively identified.

Still, committee member Karl McNair, a Baylor administrator, said descendants deserve to see the remains handled with respect.

“Once the trees get nice and mature, it will be a really nice place for people who come to visit their ancestors,” McNair said.

Annette Jones, a Waco assistant city attorney who has overseen the grave project for more than a decade, said the final report from archaeologist Nesta Anderson may be a few years away. She said the reports will be kept at public libraries, the Texas Collection and possibly the Texas Ranger museum.

“From the viewpoint of those of us here in Waco, it gives us a little better picture who these anonymous people were,” she said.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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