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For many years, I’ve been concerned about the lack of care for the small, ancient family cemeteries scattered throughout Carroll County.
Last week, I wrote a story about the return of Sarah Morris’ headstone to one of these cemeteries. Somehow, the stone, which had broken from its base, was found among a load of gravel delivered to a man in Switzerland County at least 30 years ago.
This story made me think about how these sacred places will be lost to future generations if something isn’t done now to preserve what is left of them.
The cemetery where Morris is buried had been relocated in 1984 to a glen far behind the Nugent Sand and Gravel plant. There may be two dozen or more of our earliest settlers buried within it. Many stones still stand, but others have been broken or are just gone.
That’s not Nugent’s fault, really; the previous owners of the sand pit, Martin Marietta Aggregates, had moved it. And for some unknown reason, the cemetery was moved to a place on the property that isn’t open to the public, as it was supposed to be.
Martin Marietta apparently didn’t do nearly as nice of a job as Nugent did in September 2008, when the company moved the Giltner family cemetery from its property to a new location next to Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church.
But these are just two of the dozens of such cemeteries that are known to be in the county. Many of the others are so overgrown with trees that it’s difficult to see them when driving by.
Certainly, not everyone buried in these cemeteries has quite as fascinating a story as Sarah Morris. Born in Virginia between 1746 and 1748, she was laid to rest on her son-in-law’s farm in Hunter’s Bottom in 1801. Her story has been well researched by her descendants. She and her husband, the Rev. Joshua Morris, came to the area in 1798 and moved away to Nelson County a year or so later. But their daughter stayed in Kentucky. They stayed and helped settled an area that was, at that time, a wilderness, even when their parents moved on to start Christian church congregations in other counties.
Their daughter, Elizabeth Morris, married Benjamin Craig Jr. It was his father, Benjamin Craig Sr. who formed a partnership with James Hawkins and purchased 613 acres of land, on which they established the town of Port William – now Carrollton.
Sarah Morris, whose headstone had been missing for 30 years, is forever connected to the very families who founded this city and helped develop the county. Though her role was small, it begs the question: Who else is lying forgotten in our abandoned cemeteries? But, I’m sure there are others who were as integral to our county’s heritage and history as Sarah, perhaps even more so.
There are a few cemeteries that have been well-cared for, and I would like to see our county, including the Port William Historical Society and other organizations, find ways to restore and care for those cemeteries that have not been. I’d be willing to bet there are state and federal, and possibly private, grants available to get this project rolling. Additionally, the Kentucky Historical Society offers cemetery preservation workshops and also administers the Kentucky Pioneer Cemetery Program. Criteria for this designation require the cemetery to have been established before 1842 and that at least 10 percent of those buried there were interred before 1850.
I imagine most of these could be designated as such, but another criteria is that the cemetery in question must be “cared for and clear of debris.”
That means we have a lot of work to do. But, if successful, having these cemeteries registered with the program would ensure that they would never again be forgotten.
What a great way to honor and pay tribute to those men and women who risked so much to settle the area we now call home.
Phyllis McLaughlin is special sections coordinator for The News-Democrat and is a geneologist residing in Milton, Ky.