A volunteer helps to spruce up what many call the Baptist Church Cemetery in Surgoinsville recently. All photos by Surgoinsville Mayor Johnny Greer.
SURGOINSVILLE — For years, a handful of local volunteers has gotten together once twice a year to clean up and a 200-year-old cemetery near downtown Surgoinsville where many of the town's founders are buried.
Among the regulars who participate in those cleanups is Surgoinsville Mayor Johnny Greer, who met a few citizens at the cemetery on May 9.
The group did the mowing and the trimming, but they also came to the realization that the cemetery needs more attention than they alone are capable of giving.
The cemetery is located beside the First Baptist Church on Old Stage Road, but the cemetery predates the church by nearly a century.
"It's beside our church, and we get together from time to time every summer and go up there and work," Greer said. "There's a huge poplar tree on top of the hill that's right in the most historic part, where some of the town founder's people are. It is a huge poplar tree and diseased real bad in the middle. You can actually see through the middle of its trunk, and if it falls, it's bound to take some tombstones with it. It really needs to be removed."
Among those who have an interest in preserving the old cemetery is Travis Suthers, whose ancestors have been buried there for more than 200 years.
"A lot of people in town call it the Baptist Church Cemetery, but I did some research, and there's no deed to that cemetery. The cemetery was there years before the church was there. My great-grandfather and some other men built that church. The founding members of that church are buried there, but so are the founding members of this town."
The oldest ancestor Suthers found in the cemetery were named Kountz, and they moved to Surgoinsville shortly after 1800 to open a saddle shop. There is a grave of an infant named Kountz dated 1812, three years before Surgoinsville was incorporated.
There are also at least 10 Civil War Confederate graves, but years ago someone stole the iron crosses on those graves.
Other markers are broken, and some graves have no marker — the only indication of a grave is the sunken ground.
Suthers' grandfather maintained the cemetery for years and knew who was buried in every plot, even the unmarked graves.
Unfortunately, he passed away before that information could be recorded.
"I don't care to do the work because I figure I owe it to the people buried here," Suthers said. "But there are things I can't do myself. We'd like to raise enough money to get a couple of those trees cut because they're huge, and if they were to fall, they'd take most of the cemetery out. We'd also like to buy some things to repair some of the broken stones."
Suthers added, "Just about everybody in town has someone connected to that cemetery, and I wish more people would take initiative to have more respect for their ancestors."
Contributions can be made at any Capital Bank location under the account titled "Surgoinsville Old Town Cemetery."