CEMETERY PRESERVATION AND MAINTENANCE
I was honored to be asked to speak before the Baxter County Historical and Genealogical Society at its regular meeting on March 24th at the Donald W. Reynolds Library in Mountain Home. I had been asked to speak about the Preservation and Maintenance Program I started in December, 2009 to help clean-up some of the abandoned and forgotten cemeteries in Baxter County.
There are about 100 cemeteries in Baxter County. These range from large perpetual care cemeteries to small family graveyards. Many of them have not been used in decades. Some haven’t been used in well over 100 years. A number of these had been forgotten and abandoned for a very long time and were covered and hidden away by undergrowth and vegetation. A few were very difficult for me to even find. We can find a lot of clues about our heritage and our past in these cemeteries. Many stories can be told. Information on gravestones can be extremely valuable to genealogists.
Under Arkansas law, county jail inmate labor can be used to clean-up cemeteries under certain terms and conditions. All inmate labor is completely voluntary on their part. Those who are serving sentences in the county jail (except those sentences for non-payment of fines) are eligible for credit off their court sentence if they work. The Sheriff also has established what’s called a “Meritorious Good Time” program that can further reduce the length of a sentence when the inmate displays good and proper deportment, respects the jail staff, and abides by all the rules while incarcerated.
The first cemetery we worked on cleaning up was the Talburt (Casey) Cemetery located at the corner of Cone St. and Cresswell St. This cemetery is of historic importance to Mountain Home. S. W. Talburt, an early pioneer settler of this area, is buried in this cemetery. He died in 1852, and his gravesite is the earliest one in that cemetery with a recorded date of death. There are many other gravesites marked only with field stones that undoubtedly pre-date his 1852 death. His cabin is now displayed in the Rapps Barren Settlement at the Cooper Park.
Three other cemeteries required very extensive efforts to clean-up. These were the Wesley Chapel Cemetery located off Baxter CR 733, West of Mountain Home. There had been no burials in this cemetery since about 1945. It was impossible to even walk into because of the brush and undergrowth.
Then there was the Williams Cemetery (sometimes called the Moon Cemetery). It is located on Baxter CR 43, several miles East of Gamaliel. There had been no burials in this cemetery since about 1920. I looked for this cemetery several times before I actually found its location. Nothing of it was still visible from the roadway.
The last one to require an extensive and intense clean-up effort was the Hensley Smith Cemetery off Baxter CR 57 in the Shady Grove community. All burials in this cemetery appear to date from no later than 1917.
A number of other abandoned cemeteries required clean-ups to various degrees.
It was originally my intent to simply clean-up the cemeteries with the most need that were in the worst condition, and then consequently try to maintain them during the growing season. There were initially 6 or 7 cemeteries that I tried to keep up with.
Since 2009, this number has expanded considerably. A number of lesser clean-up jobs at other abandoned cemeteries were eventually undertaken as well. Although I take pride in our accomplishments with respect to the care of these cemeteries, it has reached the point to where it is impossible to undertake anything further with the amount of time I have available. There is usually no shortage of jail inmate labor, but of course they have to be guarded and watched over by a deputy when they are out working. That’s the challenging part, trying to find reserve deputies willing to take the inmates out to work. I fear that once I have retired, the work will come to a stop altogether and these cemeteries will revert back to their prior condition.
Until that day comes, I will attempt to keep up with the ones we are already mowing and taking care of every summer. I enjoy it, and the inmates enjoy it and take pride in their work as well. I think this is a very worthwhile project that serves an important purpose in the community. Thanks for your support.
Capt. Jeff Lewis,
Talburt Cemetery before clean-up
Talburt Cemetery after clean-up
Wesley Chapel Cemetery before clean-up
Wesley Chapel Cemetery after clean-up
Williams Cemetery before clean-up
Williams Cemetery after clean-up
Hensley Smith Cemetery before clean-up
Hensley Smith Cemetery after clean-up