Georgia group aims to restore forgotten cemeteries

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — A temporary, handwritten sign marks the site of the small cemetery. It reads “New Bethel Church, Strickland Cemetery.”

The final word has already faded though the sign was erected only a few months prior. The sign was placed there by the Restoration and Preservation Mission, a Gainesville-based organization that focuses on restoring abandoned or neglected African-American cemeteries.

“You couldn’t tell there was anything there just walking through the woods unless you stumbled on a headstone, literally,” said Dave Bahr, the executive secretary to the president of the Sugar Hill Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Utility crews stumbled upon the cemetery and notified city officials.

James Brooks, a member of the mission, said Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann told him about the cemetery after it was discovered and he investigated.

Mission members and youth volunteers from the Sugar Hill Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cleared the overgrown cemetery on Strickland Drive in Gainesville one afternoon in December.

But the forgotten cemetery has revealed a mystery, leaving the volunteers with few clues and more questions.

Fewer than 10 headstones from the 1920s to the 1950s are marked graves, and property records indicate the owner is the defunct New Bethel Church. The church is thought to have been located next door.

Mission member Anderson Flen said a few of the gravestones appear fairly new and expensive, indicating a level of permanency in the forgotten cemetery.

“But there again, who were these people? It’s such a mystery around there,” he said. “It’s a story we’re trying to uncover that we just haven’t gotten a complete handle on.”

Volunteers placed dozens of red and white flags to designate other possible gravesites, several indicated by sunken ground.

Brooks said community volunteers are helping to research the genealogy and will try to contact any surviving relatives.

Noah Johnson, a member of the Think Initiative aimed at encouraging boys toward success, was tasked with researching the cemetery.

The 16-year-old said he researched the names inscribed on the tombstones through local records at the library and through online services such as But he had little luck.

Johnson said he found basic records and the occupations of a few people, but he hopes to find more because he believes everyone deserves to be remembered.

“We’re having a problem finding descendants who really know the history of that cemetery,” Flen said. “We have some names out there that are distant relatives of people, like the Welchels and Stricklands, but there isn’t a direct relationship. We’re trying to unravel information about who were these people and who would have information on them and where can we get information from.”

This is the fourth cemetery the mission has cleared in its 14 years.

In the past the mission cleared an abandoned cemetery in Gillsville, the Eureka Church Cemetery on Athens Highway in Gainesville and the Wahoo Church Cemetery on Nancy Creek Road just outside of the Gainesville city limits. Those projects were large and stretched out over years in some cases.

Flen said he believes these projects are important because it preserves history that might otherwise have been lost.

“These are the persons and individuals who helped build this community’s foundation,” Flen said. “We should know something about them. For many of them, they made tremendous sacrifices and if we don’t remember them and we continue to forget our history, to me I think, we really lose who we are. We forget that others made tremendous sacrifices so we can have what we have.”

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nocnoc 04/13/14 - 07:46 am
There plenty out there

that were bulldozed over and houses built on them

Some examples:
* Off Windsor Spring Rd and between Turkey Trail Dr. and Patrick Ave bordered by Basswood Dr area there was a old family cemetery in the 1970's. Now there are houses.

* US-25 Gracewood hill Gracewwod side - opposite of the Old Tidewater Hospital driveway, over by the Gracewood lakes

* Goshen Rd & Hwy 56 - Nothing but scrub oaks and a historical marker .

* US-1/US-78 Schultz Hill North Augusta 1970's, contractors accidentally bulldozed over a large plot, while building the old Kmart now Riverside Antiques area .

* Apple Valley - Graves moved then lost behind the Waffle House

This one I am proud of:
GWINNETT Co. Sugarloaf Parkway & Mill Dr along Yellow River.
In 1998 Contractor bulldozed over 27 graves for the Historically famous Adair Family plot. A family that open up there wilderness area in 1790-1826 with a land grant from the Cherokees. Several convicted GC Commissioners had a heck of a time explaining that one in court. BTW: they approved the site for 168 Apartments. A couple of us exposed this to the public using the Gwinnett Daily Post Web site. It caused a major stink and stopped the Apartment building before it broke ground. That was almost 8 years ago and still not Apartments ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

historylover 04/13/14 - 09:07 am

I agree whole heartedly with your posting but just wanted to correct one of your listings. The cemetery at 56 and Goshen was never at that corner. If you turn left on Goshen Industrial Blvd. (heading out of town) the Twiggs family cemetery mentioned on the historical marker is located on your left about 200 feet down. The last time I was there it was still enclosed by a brick wall and very much intact.

For Thomson residents: If you go behind the Burger King and the Chinese restaurant and walk those woods, you will find an immense African-American cemetery that is completely unmarked and grown over.

One more cemetery that many people may not know is there is located right behind Windsor Jewelers on Washington Road. It is also fenced off, but maintained.

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