Walker County Coal Mines


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There's a Story In Every Grave

There’s A Story In Every Grave
By Gene Gravlee

 

Old Marker            Old abandoned cemeteries are everywhere, but I wonder what some really would be like if it were not for some of my friends and acquaintances.  Would we know about them?
            Overall, they are too numerous to acknowledge, but I would like to introduce some individuals whom I have had the privilege to meet and work with in our shared love of historical, ancestral and genealogical preservation.  They have made a difference and continue to make a difference.
            Bill Tubbs and his wife Sue are always endeavoring to preserve some part of our county and state’s history.  They have gathered material, printed various years of census books of different counties, and have nearly completed every county in the State of Alabama Ancestral Homestead project.  Yet Bill still takes time to clean old, isolated, and deserted cemeteries in more than one county, and can be seen driving his pickup truck near Curry, with an old push lawn mower in the bed of the truck, during warm weather on his way to another project.
            Floyd Guthrie probably has the best database of cemeteries than anyone I know.  He has spent countless and thankless hours gathering information for his census records.  I have spent many hours sharing information with Floyd.  We have also, and on more than one occasion, traveled to cemeteries together.
            Joan Lane has been into many cemeteries conducting and gathering census information for publication in “Here They Rest.” a publication for the Walker Genealogical Society.  These books contain the names of people buried in some of the Walker County cemeteries.
            Walter Dockery has given me information of cemeteries in Tuscaloosa and other counties far too numerous to be recalled here.  Walter and I have spent much time on the telephone trying to make sure that history is being preserved.
            Jim Maples saved a cemetery in Madison County that contained the graves of Revolutionary War Soldiers.  Had it not been for him, this cemetery would have been destroyed just as others have been.  He has even used a GPS to plot a map in Madison County of all known grave sites of Revolutionary War Soldiers.
            Craig Remington, Professor of the University of Alabama Cart Lab is trying to save all maps that have been published of the State of Alabama, along with  various maps of the counties in our state.  Craig has published two volumes of the “Historical Atlas of Alabama, Cemetery Locations by County.”  I met Craig several years ago and began doing volunteer work for this project.  It was with his encouragement that he and I produced the first ever  GPS cemetery county map.
            Chuck Gerdau has done so much work in Tuscaloosa County that it is hard to measure all that he has done.  He probably knows the location of more graveyards in Tuscaloosa County than anyone else.
            The color barrier is not even thought about when it comes to cleaning cemeteries and saving these old forgotten places as Eloise Prewitt has showed to all.  She has spent countless hours cleaning the old Prewitt Slave Cemetery near the Old Byler Road in Tuscaloosa County.  Eloise has orchestrated the preservation and clean-up of several isolated family cemeteries, as several of her family members, and friends, can attest.
            The Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance was “dedicated to honoring, recording, restoring, and preserving all cemeteries and burial grounds throughout the State of Alabama”.   You may go on line and register any, and all. cemeteries in Alabama.  Go online to http://www.alabama-cemetery-preservation.com/ and begin today.  You can help save some of these old abandoned cemeteries.  Do it today!                                                                                                                                     I want to thank those of you who have contacted me by telephone.  Some have asked why I have not gone into other areas of the state.  However I am writing and trying to preserve what I know about in a particular area of more than one county. Throughout many years of search and research, I have traveled into every county. It is just not possible for me to know all I should know so that I could write about every county.  But you can help!  Alabama is a large state: approximately 380 miles from the Tennessee line to the Gulf Coast and about 200 miles from the Georgia line to the Mississippi state line. I have stated before, I don’t have a monopoly on this.  You can also help accomplish this work in your own way.
            There are many cemeteries that have been abandoned and three are  listed below.  Maybe you know of other burial grounds no longer being cared for.  Record them and help preserve their location.  Some listed below have been located in the middle of nowhere.  Won’t you assist us, record them, and help preserve their location!

Howle Cemetery
Cullman County

         This cemetery is, or was, in the middle of large field in Township 13S Range 5W Section 24.  I first visited it in February 1999.  The simplest directions I can give is to leave Alabama 91 in Cullman County near Corinth Church of Christ Church and Cemetery; travel south toward the Walker County line for approximately 1.4 miles on Cullman County Road # 15. 
            Now stop right there. The road you would ordinarily turn left onto is now blocked.  There is a coal strip mining operation in progress and the road is now closed!
            When the visit was made to this cemetery, I recorded the following marked graves: Alexander Howle, born August 25, 1822 and died April 1st.  The year of death is not legible.  The year of death was either in the 1880’s or 1890’s as the first two numerals were all that were legible.  Rosenbrough Sons of St. Louis, MO made his monument.
            The cemetery was located in the middle of a cultivated field where cattle grazed nearby.  There was once an old farm near here.  An old home place was still standing.  There were at least six graves at this isolated spot with only one marked. 
            I received several telephone calls after February 1999; from individuals telling me that the strip-mining operation was given permission to strip the coal from this area.  I know there was at least one Historical Society which did not want to be involved in stopping this cemetery from being moved.  So do you suppose those graves are still there?  I hope they were moved to another cemetery, or will be moved to another cemetery. I know of another cemetery that was moved as strip mining operations was going on.  No county permit was obtained; the graves were moved to the wrong place on the first move, causing them to be moved again.                                                                                                                               You can count on this cemetery being placed in the proper place on the future Cullman County Cemetery Map. I have the correct GPS coordinates for this old burial ground.  At least, it was once there!

 
Conway Cemetery
Walker County

            A very dear friend told me of this next cemetery.  I knew Cecil Cupps for so many years that I cannot remember not knowing him.  Cecil departed this life a few years ago, but several years before his death, he telephoned to let me know of Conway Cemetery so that it too could be plotted, and never to be lost again.
            Travel from Sumiton on the Empire Road, past Marklund for 2/10 mile; turn right into a private drive, and cross the remnant of an old railroad bed to the home of Mrs. Louise Russell.  I spoke with Mrs. Russell, told her of my objective to plot and record this old cemetery, and she gave her permission.  Walking into her back yard, I found the old fence and crossed it, climbed a small hill and found this old graveyard.  This cemetery is near the top of a hill in a very beautiful wooded area.
            Once more, another old cemetery will not be lost and if some family member reads this, and wants to know more,  I will be glad to talk to them and show them its location.
            I located two marked graves and four unmarked graves at this location in Township 15S Range 5W Section 2.  The marked graves were those of C. C. Conway, February 28, 1814-September 16, 1876 and an infant that died August 6, 1881, aged 13 months.
           
            Flat Creek Cemetery
          Jefferson-Walker County Line

         For several years I had gathered bits and pieces of information about an old black cemetery located near Twilley Town, in Walker County.  Even though I had made a diligent search, I just never located this old burying ground.  Maybe I just never talked to the right person who knew where it was located.
            Through the years as I would inquire as to the whereabouts of this site, I was told that a strip-mining operation had placed it under water years ago.  Others would say that the old cemetery could not be located because some machinery had destroyed it.
            Within the last year, I received a telephone call from a person asking my help in finding where his father was buried.  By this time, I had a little more information to work with.  This man was searching for the grave of his father who had been buried in this lost cemetery when the man inquiring was just a boy. 
            He told me that he had not been back to the site in over forty years.  It was at this time I determined to try one more time to find it.  So I began to make a few telephone calls to some people who lived in the area (ones whom I had not asked about it before); was given a general direction of where it was located; and was advised to call a member of the Twilley family. 
            This I did. Soon I was on my way to making one more trip.  Carl Franklin and I met one afternoon and started out on another adventure.  On this trip we finally found this old cemetery in Township 16S Range 5W Sections 8 in Walker County and Section 17 in Jefferson County.  You read correctly.  Part of the cemetery is in Walker County and part is in Jefferson County.
            At one time, and for many years, the Seaboard Railroad went through this area  and served several mining camps located near here.  The old railroad trussell  bridge was located in Jefferson County and to drive underneath it required your full attention, because you had to make a complicated swerve in the road.  This trussell bridge was located on the road from Twilley Town to Flat Creek.  Many a vehicle has not made it through.  Some made it and some failed.
            It was near the trussell bridge on the Jefferson County side of the railroad where a small, narrow, dirt road led up into the Flat Creek Cemetery.  This was not the route I accessed to the old burial ground.  I got there by driving the old railroad bed.
            We found very large trees in the graveyard itself.  There were not many marked graves at this location.  To try and count the number of unmarked graves  was an impossible task,  and to clean this cemetery would require heavy equipment capable of handling large trees.
            We did locate property corner markers that Alabama Power Company had placed there in years gone by.  I talked with more than one person with Alabama Power Company and advised them of this location.  According to the people I spoke with, they knew nothing of this location. However, one Alabama Power Company employee did agree to meet there, but since that time, a meeting has never taken place.  I gave the GPS coordinates of this location to one employee of the Alabama Power Company employee.

            No cemetery needs to be left in such a deteriorated state, or condition, no matter what race is buried there.  This one is in a shameful, pitiful state of neglect and something needs to be done to correct it regardless of who is at fault.

 

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