Is there a person buried near the Downtown Tunnel in Portsmouth? Lone gravestone sits off roadway

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A gravestone sitting near the Downtown Tunnel has a lot of people stumped, including those who own the land. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation owns the large field adjacent to the I-264 westbound as it exits the Downtown Tunnel in Portsmouth.

There, under the shade of several trees, you will find a lone gray granite gravestone peaking through the grass. 

Bearing the name “Byron L. Churchill” with a birth date of November 22, 1865, and a death date of January 22, 1938, VDOT archeologist Ken Stuck said it wouldn’t be the first time he has found a gravestone off the side of the road, however this one surprises him.  

“The first I heard about this was yesterday afternoon,” Stuck said. “I had no idea this gravestone was out there….we’ve reviewed back on plans since we found out about it. It is nowhere on any plans for Downtown Tunnel or 264.”

Churchill would have died 14 years before the downtown tunnel was completed. Stuck said there would be records of the headstone had it been there at that time.

“It is odd,” Stuck said. “We really don’t know where it has come from.”

A online search turned up that a man with the same name, birth and death date is buried and has a gravestone at Mount Hope Cemetery in Southern Pines, North Carolina. A death certificate confirms the burial. 

The caretakers of the property told 10 On Your Side they have never heard of a duplicate stone and were “puzzled” with the discovery in Virginia. 

Susan Price, an employee from Ogg Stone Works in Portsmouth, said duplicates are made, but it would be rare for a stone only 80 years old. 

“Family could request a replacement,” Price said. “Either they didn’t like it or they wanted something bigger or better … but there was no reason for that memorial ever to hit the state of Virginia. He has no family here, he never lived here.”

Price found in a public records search that Churchill was originally born in Nova Scotia and became a U.S. Citizen upon moving to Massachusetts. He was a carpenter and lived in Montana before settling in North Carolina. 

However he never appeared to come to Virginia. 

“There is just no reason it would end up appearing in a place like that,” Price said.

VDOT plans to leave the stone in place for now. 

“Somebody paid for this, it is somebody’s stone,” Stuck said. “If a descendent of Mr. Churchill’s could be found we would probably ask them. If not, it will probably be disposed of.” 

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