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Fixing a grave situation: Group aims to conserve Wrightsboro cemetery

Regena Hawes Hall grew up here, in a house just off Wrightsboro Road in the shadow of the old white church and nearby cemetery.

wrightsboro1.jpg

Regena Hawes Hall has three generations of family in the cemetery. Click here for more photos
Photo by Jason B. Smith
Three generations of her family are buried in the Hawes plot in the historic cemetery, a burial ground she played in as a child.

"I have a lot of fond memories of the church and the people that participated -- Sunday School teachers and different ones -- that really made it what it was," she said.

And over the years, she has watched the old cemetery deteriorate. Once bright-white tombstones are stained gray and flake with lichens. Wrought-iron fences are toppled, as are grave markers and stone monuments. Trees and other vegetation have sprouted in family plots.

"So many people come here looking for relatives that go way back," she said, adding she recently helped a couple from Texas find an old grave. "But it just seems like there were so many more stones here when I was a child."

Her frustrations may soon come to an end thanks to an effort by some local folks who love McDuffie County's history and want to bring some changes to the Wrightsboro cemetery.

"I am thrilled about all this," said Ms. Hall, who serves on the board of the Wrightsboro Foundation. "I have worried about this cemetery for a number of years."

Epp Wilson is spearheading the $20,000 conservation effort, which will focus on repairing 31 stones in the area.

So far, he's raised $10,000, including a $5,000 grant from the Watson Brown Foundation. He's hoping families with ties to Wrightsboro and some area businesses will also donate money to the project.

Mr. Wilson said the work will be extremely low impact -- no sandblasting or other intensive work that could damage the area's historical significance.

"We want to maintain the historical character of the cemetery," Mr. Wilson said. "It's just a country cemetery, but it's a real gem in our history."

He's enlisted the service of the non-profit Chicora Foundation of Columbia, S.C. Chicora is one of the leading heritage preservation groups in the Southeast.

Michael Trinkley, who serves as Chicora's director, said the project will above all respect the history of the cemetery.

"It is very important to us that when people go to the cemetery, what they are attracted to is the beauty of the cemetery, the beauty of the stones, the history of the stones, not our repairs," he said. "The more invisible our repairs are, the better we conceive of those repairs."

Mr. Trinkley recently spent a few days in McDuffie County looking at the cemetery and said it is not in terrible shape where something immediately needs to be done, but it's also not in good enough shape to just leave alone.

"The truth of the matter is, it is somewhere in between," he said.

He shies away from using the word "restoration" in talking about the group's work.

"Restoration implies making like new," he said. "Part of respecting the original history and the historical fabric of a cemetery is not trying to make it look new or trying to make it look the way I think it should look."

The group's work will include leveling some leaning stones, repairing and resetting some broken stones, even rebuilding a brick box tomb.

Once in McDuffie County, the project will take about three weeks to complete.

Waiting for work

A partial list of the graves scheduled for conservation:

Willie Bolton

D.G.M. (footstone)

Albert Holliman

? H. (footstone)

Emily Johnson

Dovie Hunt

Hon. John H. Scott

Emily Johnson

Williams

Williams

Charlie Kendrick

E.B. Wilkerson

H. Hunt

James Thomas Newby

James Wade

Nancy Keen

Eliza J. Young

Mettie Cordelia Shipp

Dr. E.C. Hawes

Amanda O. Hawes

Hawes

Frank Kendrick

GET INVOLVED

For more information on the project, 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.



Web posted on Thursday, October 7, 2004


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