Originally created 09/07/06

Cemetery history will be revealed



Mystery shrouds a small cemetery tucked behind a strip mall near Augusta National Golf Club.

Tales of hidden gold, a lost village and influential Augustans of days past swirl around the Coleman-Leigh-Warren cemetery.

Brad Cunningham, executive project director for Friends of Coleman-Leigh-Warren Cemetery, will explore these issues and others that surround his nonprofit organization's efforts to restore and preserve the historic site, which has fallen into disrepair, during a presentation to the public tonight. The free presentation will be at 7 p.m. at the Augusta Museum of History, 560 Reynolds St.

The Coleman-Leigh-Warren Cemetery, a small patch of land behind a National Hills strip mall on Washington Road, has become home to a cell phone tower, until recently was the site of a medic station and occasionally has even been turned into overflow parking for the Masters Tournament.

What has Mr. Cunningham found the most surprising from the group's research?

"I think the fact that there are so many surprises about who these people were and what they did, and all those things will come out in the presentation," he said. "I think as a whole just the constant turning up of what these people did and how they so influenced Augusta and Richmond County yet look at what has happened to this place."

Some of these surprises he will only allude to, hoping to attract more people to the presentation.

For instance, the village of Bedford at one time settled on the land around the cemetery. Tales documented in more than one place tell of gold buried at Bedford Plantation. That could explain why vandals removed the stone slabs covering the graves, Mr. Cunningham said. But bodies were buried in the graves, not gold.

Another mystery lies in who is buried in the cemetery.

Deeds to the property indicate that it encompasses 1.1 acres, Mr. Cunningham said, but the brick walls enclosing the cemetery are much smaller. The site, which was originally known as the town cemetery, could well have bodies outside the walled portion.

Headstones mark where members of the Coleman, Leigh and Warren families are buried. If it was also a town cemetery, where were townspeople buried, Mr. Cunningham said.

And, as a "family" cemetery, there could be other people buried as well. In pre-Civil War America, the term "family" often included slaves, he said.

Among those known to be buried in the cemetery is Benjamin Holmes Warren, who served as a Richmond County commissioner in 1829. Mr. Warren was a founding shareholder in the Bank of Augusta and was contracted to build sections six and seven of the Augusta Canal, among many other notable contributions.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

The Friends of Coleman-Leigh-Warren Cemetery will hold a free public presentation on the nonprofit organization's efforts to restore and preserve the historic cemetery. The presentation will be at 7 tonight at the Augusta Museum of History, 560 Reynolds St.