Old tombstone found in renovation of historic home

By GAYLE COULTER State Journal Staff Writer Published:

The Owsley House's new owners uncovered a mystery during renovation work when they discovered a tombstone built into the floor of a fireplace.

"You never know what you'll find in an old house like this," said Zigurds Grigalis, of Lexington, who along with wife Nancye, purchased the Owsley House at 314 West Main St. in April.

Construction workers hired by the Grigalises discovered a 6-foot marble slab in one of the fireplaces while removing burnt flooring materials.

When they turned the stone over, they discovered carvings on it that indicated it was a grave marker or crypt lid for Mary Bell, the wife of John Slaughter, who was born May 30, 1801, and died Jan. 29, 1847.

"My wife was worried we might find a body to go with the stone," Grigalis said. That didn't happen. However, Nancye Grigalis was intrigued enough to do some research.

She discovered Mary Bell was the second daughter of Daniel and Lucy Price Weisiger. The Weisigers owned a house at the corner of Ann and Main streets in the early 1800s, and their home was a popular gathering place for celebrities from far away such as the General Marquis de LaFayette.

The home is the former residence of Gov. William Owsley, who lived there from 1833 to 1848. Before Owsley purchased the home, it was used as the Bank of the Commonwealth and was home to several other notable Kentuckians including Thomas A. Marshall, the former chief justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Nancye Grigalis's research led her to the state Department for Libraries and Archives where she discovered Mary Bell had a burial site at Frankfort Cemetery with her family.

Frankfort Cemetery staff said the first burials in the cemetery were in 1845 and at that time, a number of remains were moved to the new cemetery from other locations.

It seems that Mary Bell's father, who died in 1829, was one of those whose remains were relocated to the Frankfort Cemetery after 1845.

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