Airport runway graves part of Savannah's history and mystique

Richard and Catherine Dotson's headstones mark runway 10 at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport (Credit: SHHIA)

Thousands of airliners fly in and out of the airport in Savannah, but it wasn't always a tarmac.

When the Savannah-Hilton Head International airport decided they needed to expand, they ran into an unforeseen dilemma.

Richard and Catherine Dotson were farming pioneers and landowners way before any plane ever landed in Savannah.

Catherine died in 1877 and Richard seven years later. Their headstones are on the tarmac of runway 10.

Shannon Scott is a storyist for the Bonaventure Cemetery.

"It makes Savannah pretty unique," he said.

The Dotson family had a farm out there in what is now the international airport. Basically, they had to remove the family cemetery, which at that time had about 100 graves, including some of the slaves and the former workers of the property," said Scott.

And that's not all they did.

"Most of those graves were moved out here to Bonaventure Cemetery, and four of them were left in, essentially, the runway," he said.

Stan Deaton is a senior historian for the Georgia Historical Society.

"Somehow the fact that they are still there resting in peace says something about the people who have been caretakers of this city for a long time," said Deaton.

Some travelers who caught a glimpse of the grave site seemed to take the revelation in stride.

Abby Sloan is a SCAD student who saw them.

"It was a little shocking, but I'm not super surprised. Savannah is kind of a spooky place," she said

But for Beaufort resident Lynn Jaecks, it was more nostalgic.

"It proves the sanctity of life that people who lived, even if they died a long time ago, are still on kind of sacred ground," said Jaecks.

It is sacred ground where Catherine and Richard Dotson eternally rest.

"If those people could rise up from that grave, they would be bewildered by what they see around them," said Deaton.

Shannon Scott adds it is all part of the mystique of Savannah.

"To me, that is sort of the quintessential Savannah: A city built on top of its own dead," he said.


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