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Uncovering Bullochs historic cemeteries
Historical Society coordinates work of families, Boy Scouts, volunteers
W Eagle Scout Cemetery WORKING
Volunteers, left to right, George Cagel Sr., Cross Womack, Eagle Scout candidate Michael Klumpp and Jacob Johnson work at the historic Thomas Waters Cemetery. Klumpp planned last Saturdays cleanup as his Eagle Project. - photo by Special

The Bulloch County Historical Society continues to coordinate cleanup and preservation of historic family cemeteries. But its cemetery program chairman, Rodney Harville, notes that others do much of the work. He points to the Huggins family, a series of Eagle Scout candidates and other volunteers as setting examples.

When Bill Huggins, 86, of Albany, Georgia, thought about the condition of the little Huggins Family Cemetery, in the Ivanhoe Community near the Ogeechee River, he knew he wanted something done.

His great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Solomon Lewis Huggins, 1825-1907, is buried there, along with at least nine other family members. After talking with his one surviving first cousin, John Huggins of Alabama, Bill Huggins emailed the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, which contacted the Historical Society.

“This is one of the miracle stories as far as restoration of a cemetery,” Harville said.

He got the message and called Huggins, who told him about family efforts to pay someone at least to clear the overgrowth from the site, which was almost unrecognizable as a cemetery.

“I visited it about five or six years ago,” Huggins said in a phone interview. “I went in there to look at those tombstones, and when I got out I looked like I’d been in a knife fight, all those vines with those inch-long thorns.”

Learning that Bill Huggins had a relative close by, Harville put him in touch with Lee Huggins, a younger, distant cousin who lives in Effingham County and was willing to work with a contractor to have the cemetery cleaned up and restored.

The Historical Society’s role was very limited, Harville said.

 

Had it surveyed

“What I did was help him in the legality of owning a cemetery,” he said. “This cemetery was owned by nobody. It was on a piece of property.”

When family members wish to reclaim a family cemetery, Harville recommends that they go to the property owners and ask to be given the site plus a 30-foot-wide strip for access, he said. In this case, the property owner was very cooperative – the cemetery is in the yard of a home – and the Hugginses did not buy the land or receive it as a gift, Lee Huggins said.

“When I was growing up, my dad took me there, and we did some restoration work on it, and then for many, many years we didn’t do anything, and we kind of felt awkward because it was in somebody’s yard,” Huggins said.

But he had the site surveyed and filed a plat of it in the clerk of court’s office, identifying it as a cemetery.

He also went to a friend, James Ray of Ray’s Clearing and Grading, based in Effingham County, and they made a plan for clearing and grading the site. Huggins helped with the work.

“It was very complex. During the process, we actually found another grave,” Huggins said.

Wanting to mark the graves more clearly, the Hugginses turned to a Statesboro business, Thayer Monument Co., and found them “very instrumental in guiding us around the historical etiquette of what you want to do,” Lee Huggins said.

Of the 10 known graves, five are of infants, testament to the high infant mortality rate of a century or more ago. But all are now marked. The new granite slabs on the baby graves are inscribed “Unnamed Infant.” Some existing slabs were reset.

Before the project was done, the Hugginses added a black metal fence around the cemetery, planted some shrubbery, and had four red brick corner columns erected, one inset with a vertical stone plaque engraved with their family name. Bill Huggins, his first-cousin John Huggins of Alabama, and Lee Huggins stand beside this column in one recent photo. Lee Huggins’ father, Ronald Huggins, and uncle, Richard Huggins, posed there on another recent visit.

The project cost almost $10,000, said Bill and Lee Huggins. Obviously, not everyone would be able or willing to make that investment in a remote burial place of ancestors from several generations back. But Harville notes that it shows what can be done.

 

Historical Society interest

Harville cites a quote as from Benjamin Franklin, "Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have.” Various cemeteries and websites display this as a comment on the upkeep of burial grounds.

To date, the Historical Society has registered 11 previously unregistered cemeteries on www.findagrave.com and uploaded photographs of more than 700 tombstones. Kim Stone, a Georgia Southern University student, did this work for about 18 months, but since her graduation in December the society doesn’t have anyone to continue it yet, Harville said.

More often than families like the Hugginses take charge, Harville marshals volunteers who may be no relation to the dead to tidy up overgrown and sometimes downright abandoned cemeteries.

The Boy Scouts have been one steady source of volunteers. To attain the ultimate rank of Eagle Scout, an eligible scout must demonstrate leadership in a service project that benefits a religious institution, a school or his community. Together, the Bulloch County Historical Society and Boy Scout Troop 342, hosted by Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church, hit on the idea of cemetery cleanups as Eagle Projects several years ago. Scouts from several other units have participated.

The Bulloch County Historical Society also awards Scouts who help in cleanups an honorary badge that depicts the society’s courthouse clock logo and a broom.

 

More Eagle Scouts

To date, Eagle Scout candidates have led seven local cemetery cleanups, and two more are planned for this month. The most recent was last Saturday, when Eagle Scout candidate Michael Klumpp, 17, of Troop 342, directed the work of 15 volunteers, most of them Scouts, in a cleanup of Thomas Waters Cemetery off Pretoria Rushing Road.

Several assistant scoutmasters, such as Klumpp’s father, Noe R. Klumpp, also helped. He and other adult volunteers operated chainsaws, trimmers and mowers. Scouts did most of the work, he said, but as with most of these cleanups, rakes, loppers and muscles alone would not have been enough.

“Before, other than one or two broken headstones popping out at you, you couldn’t tell what was a cemetery and what was brush overgrown in a field,” said Noe Klumpp.

The “after” photos show bare soil between the stones and reveal a rustic fence.

Next, Eagle Scout candidate David Rizo is slated to direct the April 16 cleanup of Brannen-Alderman Cemetery. A third Troop 342 Eagle candidate, Cole Tibodeau, will oversee the cleanup of Moore-Lee Cemetery, later this month but at a date yet to be determined, Harville said.

Another approach is the adoption of a historic cemetery, for continuing upkeep, by volunteers with no family connection. While employed by the county, Jerry Ranew discovered the Hagin and Miller Cemetery, and after he retired, Ranew and his wife, Betty, adopted it for upkeep, Harville said.

“We don’t have but one, but I want to tell that story. …,” he said. “There is a possibility that churches and clubs would adopt a cemetery.”

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

 

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