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The historic Wrightsboro Cemetery has undergone a transformation, but the change is subtle, tasteful and in keeping with the character of the country setting.
Through the efforts of a local history buff who is still raising money to pay for the work, a crew of conservation experts has come and gone. In their wake is a tidier burial ground set beneath the shade of the old growth trees which dot the grounds of the picturesque Wrightsboro Church.
Epp Wilson (back) and other volunteers erect a large headstone at Wrightsboro.
Thomson businessman Epp Wilson who organized the effort said, "This is one of the most gratifying projects I've been involved with in a long time. I've learned things about our McDuffie County ancestors at large that are just fascinating"
Mr. Wilson wanted to spruce up the site without changing its quaint charm and historical significance.
"It's just a country cemetery, but it's a real gem in our history," he commented to The McDuffie Mirror in October.
With that goal in mind, experts from the non-profit Chicora Foundation set up camp, carefully repairing broken stones, rebuilding some grave sites, and uncovering and leveling some graves that were hidden after years of settling.
The cemetery dates back to the early 1800s, and officials wanted to maintain the historical significance while highlighting the cemetery's charm.
"We want people to focus on the stones and not any work we have done," said Michael Trinkley, Chicora director.
That goal has been successful, according to Scott Williams, one local resident who supported the conservation effort.
"I think it turned out great. I have some family buried there, so it was important to me that it be repaired," he said.
The cemetery now has its fences intact, rock walls rebuilt, and markers upright.
A box grave has gone from a pile of bricks to a neat tomb, and workers even uncovered the parts to an unusual cradle grave, a monument that has a headboard, footboard and decorative sides surrounding a garden area.
Burial sites such as the cradle grave use stone, rather than pages of a history book, to give a glimpse into the rich history of the past and show a transition in theological theory.
"It's not the biggest or most elaborate monument, but it struck a nerve with me," Mr. Wilson said, noting the use of cradle graves reflects the idea that "Mother is just sleeping until we meet again in glory," a Victorian era belief that departed from the more severe ideals of the Puritan era.
It's interesting that with the simple design of the stone, artisans could embody different changes in theology and thinking about death, he said.
The mark of those early settlers, the Quakers, is seen in the cemetery as well as the fields and forests that surround it. The distinctive landscape of north McDuffie County, developed by the Quakers, has a particular combination of beauty and function that makes the area home to one of the top foxhunting clubs in America, The Belle Meade Hunt.
Mr. Wilson said it was no coincidence that two of the top fox hunting clubs in North America are on former Quaker territory (the other is in Pennsylvania), demonstrating how they worked in harmony with nature.
To preserve the living history of the area, those involved with the cemetery project exercised care.
"Every stone was put back exactly where it was found. We did not change a single thing out there from the way it was originally," said volunteer Larry Buffington who spent about six full days learning correct methods for resetting and leveling markers.
Mr. Buffington, who also helped identify and uncover several graves that had settled, plans to put his newfound skills to work preserving his family cemetery, (the Johnson Cemetery), and helping with his church cemetery (Salem United Methodist).
With his deep roots in the county, Mr. Buffington feels a connection to the past that is echoed by the Wrightsboro Cemetery.
"You get a feel of what they were like and what they went through," he said.
He was especially moved by a family plot that held a man and his wife, immigrants from Dublin, Ireland, and their son and daughter in law and six of their young children who died between 18 months and three years of age.
"These families really had a hard time. They could get everything from yellow fever, cholera, typhoid to small pocks. If you got a child grown back them you were lucky," he said.
Although the refurbishing of the cemetery is largely finished, fundraising efforts continue and $4,000 is still needed to pay for the work. So far, about $14,000 has been raised for the effort, including $5,000 grants from the Watson Brown Junior Board and the Tourism Board, and $4,000 from other local donations.
For more information, call Epp Wilson or Nancy Pentecost at 595-8000. Donations may be mailed to:
McDuffie County Wrightsboro Cemetery Conservation Fund, Epp Wilson, Chairman, 1890 Washington Road, Thomson, Ga., 30824.