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Descendants reclaim land that was part of lost family cemetery

Work begins on historic designations for Hockley-Clay Cemetery

SAN ANTONIO – The original Hockley-Clay Family Cemetery in Northeast San Antonio is now complete.

About 6,000 square feet that wound up in two neighboring backyards decades ago have been reclaimed by the descendants of Jane Warren, a freed slave who had a ranch in the area after the Civil War.

The Northern Hills subdivision borders the cemetery on one side and Northern Hills Elementary on the other.

The fences in those backyards were torn down last week and replaced with new fencing where a certified land survey showed the property lines actually were.

“Now, the family has custody of the entire original cemetery property,” said Everett Fly an architect and landscape architect nationally known for his preservation work.

“The homeowners resisted strongly for almost two years,” Fly said.

Fly said since they had bought their homes from the prior owners, no survey was done.

“It was only after several written requests that the homeowners agreed to talk,” Fly said.

The city’s Development Services confirmed the survey in their records, he said, so the homeowners gave up the part of their backyards they had believed was theirs.

Fly said the Hockley-Clay Cemetery actually had been there for more than 100 years before they actually bought their homes.

He said now that the issue has been resolved, work begins on getting local and state historical designations for the historic African-American cemetery.

Fly said those designations will protect the cemetery from any future encroachment because “It’ll be clear where the boundaries are.”

Archaeologists also will be able to continue their investigation, looking for artifacts and signs of burial sites, Fly said, but no excavations are planned.

It was the curiosity of a retired Air Force major, James Michael Wright, a Northern Hills homeowner, that led to the discovery of the lost cemetery while walking his children to school in 2014.

After searching the Bexar County Spanish Archives, Wright said, “We found some death certificates for Hockley Cemetery, Wetmore, Texas.”

Fly said based on about 15 or 20 death certificates, “We do know who is buried here up to a certain extent.”

The idea now is to have a new gate that will serve as a permanent landmark, Fly said, who added that he’ll work with the family on its design and negotiate with the homeowners association about the design for a fence that would surround the cemetery.

Fly also said they’ll work on a plan to grant public access at designated times.

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