family Cemetary Revival
County planning office sees uptick in
family plot permit applications
David and Flossie Dodge once considered being laid to rest in the Morgan County farmland on which they so painstakingly carved a life.
“It seemed like a romantic idea,” said Flossie Dodge. In April, the Morgan County Planning Commission gave the middle-aged couple the nod for a zoning variance to locate the Dodge Family burial grounds on a small section of pasture along Enterprise Road.
Morgan County Planner and Project Officer Tara Cooner said although the Dodge Family Cemetery request was a little unusual for this day and age, the county is experiencing a small resurgence of landowners who want to be buried in their own backyards. The Dodges would have been nestled among more than 200 private or family cemeteries identified in Morgan County in a study performed in 2007 and published in a 365-page book.
Some of the reasons Cooner hears from land owners seeking a family plot permit include avoiding the expense of a commercial cemetery and not wanting to be buried alongside strangers in commercial or municipal plots. But there is a major responsibility many families do not consider when following through on the burial plan: Who is going to clean up after the family when they are all dead and buried? “It is a sad thing to see,” Cooner said. “The family cemetery is established and used, but then the rest of the family eventually moves away, and the cemetery is abandoned.”
Which is why the Dodges decided against going through with their personal cemetery idea. “It turned out to be a pipe dream,” said Flossie Dodge, a master gardener who envisioned a peaceful park-like plot for her children, grandchildren and future descendants to visit. The Dodges’ grown children are not interested in inheriting the 100-acre farm, nor do they want to be buried somewhere they did not grow up. In that case, the Dodges decided, who would want to buy a property with a fresh cemetery on it? “The reality of it was pretty sobering,” said Flossie Dodge, who cannot bear the thought of broken tombstones and gravesites overgrown with weeds. Hurtful evidence of non-remembrance and neglect.
Some family cemeteries, however, do it differently. Local resident Clay Bumgardner is caretaker of the Pattillo Family Cemetery, which is tucked in a clearing of woods along Monticello Highway… right next to the Fears-Smith Family Cemetery, established in 1824.
H.G. Pattillo is an international commercial and residential developer with headquarters in Decatur. In their 80s, Pattillo and his wife bought the 600-acre property several years ago, and received a zoning variance for the burial plot last August. The design features side-by-side resting places for the couple as well as a quadrant for each of their four adult children and their families, if they so choose.
H.G. Pattillo likes to walk the property’s trails and finds solace and renewed spiritual health when he’s traversing the woods and pastures, and wanted to design and build a cemetery that would bring the same calming benefits to family and friends who will one day visit the resting place.
Luke Pressley is the civil engineer who designed the site. It was a first-time experience for Pressley, who works for Kyle Bowen Development, Planning and Engineering in Buford. “Not many people have their own family cemeteries anymore,” said Pressley. Based on Pattillo’s instructions, Pressley designed the cemetery in the tradition of an English garden, a common sight in England’s cemeteries. Flowering perennials outline each quadrant and a black marble bench graces the front of the lush-grass covered gravesites where the couple will be buried one day. Each of the children’s sections is marked with a black marble footstone that bears his or her first name. Pressley said he designed the cemetery with all of the headstones able to face the East, a Christian tradition that upholds the belief that Jesus Christ will return one day, descending from the East, and believers want to rise facing in that direction.
To complement the fresh burial plot, some workers also cleaned up the Fears-Smith cemetery, said caretaker Bumgardner. Occasionally family members and friends of the Fears-Smith clan have a workday at the site, the last time cleaning off the tombstones. According to state law, if decades from now a new property owner wants to build on land known to have supported a family cemetery, he must have the farmland surveyed for private burial grounds before development could begin. The goal is to identify and save cemeteries that are historically significant to the surviving public. “It doesn’t always work,” said Cooner of the county planning department, noting the 2007 study probably did not find all of the private burial plots in the county. In many cases, family members did not reveal the location of the backyard plot out of fear it would be vandalized.
And not all century-old family cemeteries are lying dormant as some still serve their purpose for Morgan County descendants. Just last January, A. Felton Jenkins Jr. , the 69-year-old accomplished attorney who served as vice chairman of Georgia’s University System’s Board of Regents, was laid to rest in the Davis Cemetery in Rutledge, his maternal family cemetery established in 1863.
available to public
The Morgan County Cemetery Survey 2007 is available on DVD from the county planning and development department. Hard copies of the book that identifies more than 200 family, church and other private cemeteries in Morgan County are no longer available. The book gives the map coordinates and addresses of the sites as well as offers a historical interpretation of the monuments and carved symbols on gravestones. For more information, call the county planning department at (706) 342-4373 or e-mail Project Officer Tara Cooner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Printed in the August 25 2011 edition.