19th-century Madison Co. cemetery to be moved

Published 1:58 pm Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A long-forgotten graveyard, sitting in the path of Madison County road construction, will be relocated this week.

Tucked away from the end of a one-lane gravel lane, the 19th-century cemetery sits on land owned by Madison County that soon will become part of Calhoun Station Parkway. Overgrown with grass and trees, the graveyard has seven headstones dated from the 1870s and marked with the names “Smith” or “Montgomery.” Two other illegible monuments are on the ground.

“Obviously, nobody was taking care of it,” said Board of Supervisors attorney Eric Hamer.

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Hamer petitioned Madison County Chancery Court for the right to relocate the remains to the Canton City Cemetery. No descendants came forward in court to claim the bodies.

The county is paying $1,850 each to unearth the remains, place them in cloth-covered wood caskets and rebury them.

“We’ll do it reverently. That’s history we’re bringing back to modern times,” said Michael Hudgins of Natchez Trace Funeral Home in Madison, which landed the job.

An archaeologist from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History will oversee the excavation and identify remains.

The expectation is there are nine graves in the area “but potentially there could be more. We don’t know until we get you out there and start digging,” said Madison County Supervisor Karl Banks, the owner of a Canton funeral home.

The only physical signs the graves could yield might be casket handles while the remains probably will show up as “dirt of another color,” Banks said.

That dirt or anything found in individual graves will be placed in its own casket, Hudgins said.

Hudgins said nothing is really known about the cemetery that has two rows of gravesites.

“The dates of death we can make out are all within a few months of each other in 1878. One marker has a 1799 birth date,” he said. “There are no children buried there as far as we can tell.”

The markers indicate that there are at least a husband and wife named Smith and another couple named Montgomery, Hudgins said. While there’s no way to know the cause of death, he said historical research shows a yellow fever plague swept through Madison County in 1878.

The cemetery was likely part of a plantation, Hudgins said. The size of the marble monuments, one at least five feet tall, indicates the family or families were well off, he said.

One of the headstones is shaped like a small Washington Monument, Hudgins said.

“That’s not uncommon in cemeteries from that time,” he said.

Construction on the parkway already has begun and is about 15 percent complete. The road extends the existing Calhoun Station Parkway from Sowell Road to Mississippi Highway 22.