Macon family on a quest to preserve history after purchasing forgotten cemetery

Amy and Kevin Smith knew there was a cemetery on property they recently bought, they just didn’t know at the time it would become their mission to restore the forgotten resting place and make sure everyone buried there had a headstone.

The couple originally purchased approximately 10 acres of land in east Macon near the Twiggs County line on Marion road to clear and build a home as well as a pumpkin patch and fall agri-tourism farm.

“We actually went to view the parcel of land right beside the one we were purchasing and saw the for sale sign on the property that included the cemetery” said Amy Smith. “So we walked the property to see how it layed and stumbled upon headstones overgrown in the woods.”

“It was quite shocking actually - it was clear to us that this cemetery had been long forgotten,” she said.

A tombstone sits in a forgotten cemetery on Marion road. Courtesy Amy Smith
A tombstone sits in a forgotten cemetery on Marion road. Courtesy Amy Smith

Smith said Andrews cemetery is directly across the road, beautifully cared for and groomed with headstones indicating every grave. Just across the street, there are sunken graves indicating wooden coffins that have deteriorated and broken down over time, creating indentations all over the area.

“We have mixed emotions regarding it,” she said. “The headstones are homemade or even just rocks in some cases.”

“I feel that the once living people on this side of the road are just as important as the ones across the street, yet the majority of them don’t even have a grave marker,” Smith said. “It’s heartbreaking and it feels unjust.”

Smith explained one of the driving forces behind purchasing the forgotten cemetery was that the family didn’t want it to remain that way - forgotten.

“We felt a tug on our conscience to do something,” she said. “We really don’t feel as if we own it but rather are tasked with care-taking and clearing of the overgrown woods surrounding it and most importantly marking the unmarked graves.”

Headstones are covered in leaves at an overgrown and forgotten cemetery in Macon. Courtesy Amy Smith
Headstones are covered in leaves at an overgrown and forgotten cemetery in Macon. Courtesy Amy Smith

Smith said there are about 35 to 40 sunken unmarked graves that the family has discovered so far and around 15 to 20 marked. Of the 15 to 20 marked, there are many without any indicators of who they were.

However, Smith said there are some with inscriptions, including:

  • “Mattie Whitehead Aug 3 1874 died September 29 1943”

  • “James Whitehead April 14 1888 died May 16 1920”

  • “Ellen Wright died July 1925”

  • “Sarah Nelson died May 7 1900”

  • “ML Nelson died April 4 1921”

  • “Melinda Hunt died feb 16”

  • “Etha May Newton B 1899. D apl 1924”

Smith said they discovered one further into the woods that had an inscription they couldn’t make sense of that read “RLILMBS.”

“We don’t know very much about the cemetery aside from what we have heard about it possibly being an enslaved people burial site - not sure yet if it is or not,” she said.

Smith said the couple plans to research ancestry on the names they have found so far. In the small amount of research already done, they found the cemetery listed as simply Marion Road Cemetery, with photos of the inscribed headstones indicating it is a long forgotten cemetery.

But the family’s plans go further than mere research. Smith said they most importantly want to mark the unmarked graves.

“We want to first locate and flag all unmarked grave sites so we can then clean the area of all overgrowth, fallen trees, and vines safely without disturbing any graves,” she said. “We want to create a well groomed area for people to visit their ancestors, give headstones to those without them and do some landscaping, plant flowers and clean up or trim any trees that will remain as well as give it a proper name with the help of the community.”

Outhouses are among the several headstones abandoned in a forgotten cemetery on Marion Road. Courtesy Amy Smith
Outhouses are among the several headstones abandoned in a forgotten cemetery on Marion Road. Courtesy Amy Smith

A gun club has stepped forward to help them do exactly that. Marion Road Gun Club, formerly Macon Rifle and Pistol Club est. 1955, has more than 325 members. Kyle Turner, club president, believes many are up for the task.

“Clearing brush and debris is one thing we could do and if Kevin and Amy would like, we could try organizing and hosting a fundraiser such as a shooting event to help with marker restorations,” he said.

Turner said the club also has old U.S. Army maps of Camp Wheeler and its firing ranges in its office, which he plans to review to see if any known cemeteries are marked near the Smiths’ property.

“It’s sad that a cemetery goes neglected and graves unmaintained,” Turner said. “If our neighbors want to clean up a cemetery on their property we want to try to help.”

Smith is also hoping to get the community involved.

“We would love any helping hands and community involvement on this project - any type of help is appreciated such as looking for grave markers, help with clearing the area, removing fallen trees, landscaping, finding and marking graves, any art or memorial installations, genealogy research efforts, land history information, and more,” she said.

Smith said although she feels the family can put in the sweat equity to clear the land, they will need financial help for the cost of the ground penetrating radar and headstones.

The couple started a Go Fund Me account to help pay for those expenses.

“Hopefully with some community help we can make this happen,” she said. “It’s a huge undertaking.”

Those interested in helping can text or call 828-808-9967.