Well I had a grand time on Decoration Day last Sunday and I sure hope you can all report the same. I’m sorry I didn’t get to visit with many of you. When I arrived at Campground with rain threatening, there were only a handful of people. I did get to see one neighbor, Lorene, who isn’t able to get out much these days due to an ailing husband, several Atkinson and Miller cousins and a couple of Stepps.
My Uncle Leon made a passing statement about locating some ancestral graves and mentioned a cemetery that I had visited once many years ago. You know it doesn’t take much to send me on an adventure and he did it! So, after the traditional visit to The Whittaker Cemetery (and no ice cream this time, I’m afraid), we headed North East off the mountain toward Livingston.
In 1928, my Great-great Granmdother, Sarah Jane Langford Stepp was staying with her son Wilburn on the mountain bench below Monterey in a community called Dry Hollow. At seventy-nine years of age, she passed away in her son’s home. Even on today’s roads and in cars that run the fifty-five mile per hour speed limit, that’s an hour’s drive from the Burrville community where she raised her family. I can’t quite imagine what it would have been in that day. We don’t actually know where her husband had been buried thirty-seven years earlier but we believe it to be near Jamestown, which would have been forty-five minutes in another direction – again that’s driving on modern roads – but all of the family had left that area anyway. So, they did the only thing they could do and buried her in Highland Cemetery.
I don’t know if she saw the end coming and was able to have any input on her final resting place, but I cannot imagine a more beautiful spot to leave your mother. The cemetery sits atop a low rise amid towering mountains on all sides. At the foot of the hill is an absolutely picturesque little church, Highland Freewill Baptist Church. Pastor Derek Parsons was good enough to supply a brief sketch of the church’s history. While that adorable building only dates to the 1970’s, the congregation was established about 1907. When their churchouse burned they continued meeting in homes or yards until a new building could be erected using volunteer labor and lumber harvested from the neighboring hillside. The floor joists were hand hewn.
The cemetery is even older, with at least two civil war veterans buried there. The oldest grave I found was 1873, unfortunately the name was unreadable, however someone clearly knows its occupant for that was one of the graves adorned with a brand new Confederate flag. The community has continued to utilize the land and new graves with modern granite stones share the space with the very old, covered graves. A new section seems to have opened with two graves sitting on the opposite side of the driveway.
Not knowing this part of the country very well (if you’re reading this and can enlighten me, by all means please do so in the comments below), I can’t help but wonder where the large slabs of quarried stone came from. There are several graves completely covered with them, and some are huge. I couldn’t imagine the effort required to haul those stones to the top of that mountain. Although it’s not too hard to believe loved ones were more than willing to put that effort into preparing and preserving their family plots.
As I looked around this quiet little community, my creative brain began to spin with questions. That same creativity will write the stories if it can’t find any facts – this valley will certainly appear in an upcoming book.