Groups making progress on Indian Springs State Park cemetery preservation

Grave sites at the cemetery in Indian Springs State Park are pictured in this 2013 file photo. (File Photo)

A year after two local groups got together to restore a cemetery at Indian Springs State Park, they are finally able to take the first steps toward clearing and repairing the historic site.

During the Friends of Indian Springs State Park’s monthly meeting held March 20, Friends historian Erion Starker provided an update on the cemetery located on Lake Clark Road inside the park’s borders. She also provided members with a packet of information on the project.

Starker is also the president of the Butts County Genealogical Society. The two groups joined forces a little more than a year ago to work to clean up and preserve the small, wooded cemetery.

The majority of the grave sites in the cemetery date back to the mid- to late 1880s. At least one Confederate soldier is buried there. The cemetery was established long before the state parks division was founded in 1931.

Work on the cemetery by the two local groups was halted before it even began. Until they could figure out who owned the cemetery, they were restricted from going onto the site to start cutting fallen trees, clearing the brush, removing leaves, and repairing tombstones and fences.

“We’re making progress,” Starker said at the Friends of Indian Springs State Park meeting on March 20, referring to the state park. “We’ve just now reached the point where we know we own it.”

Thanks to research conducted by Paul Hemmann, one of the directors with the Butts County Historical Society, the Friends group and Genealogical Society were able to determine that the property where the cemetery is located was sold and deeded to the state in 1952.

That piece of information allows members of the Friends group and the Genealogical Society to now go into the cemetery to start clearing and repairing the site, which are the necessary first steps needed to begin preserving it.

Although the cemetery is located within Indian Springs State Park, the Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is unable to maintain the site and others like it throughout the state.

“It’s not uncommon to see grave sites and cemeteries on state parks, but we don’t have the funding to keep up the cemeteries,” Judd Smith, the division’s assistant region manager for region 3, which includes Butts County, told the Jackson Progress-Argus last year. “Most of the time, it’s up to descendants or community and Friends groups to take it over.”

More than 100 years after it was established, the historic cemetery remains relevant to descendants of those who are buried there. Family members continue to place flowers on the graves and visit throughout the year.

The Butts County Genealogical Society has spoken with or met a number of people who have ancestors buried there. At least one of those people attended a Genealogical Society meeting last year.

Once the cemetery is cleared out and cleaned up, members of the Friends group and Genealogical Society will begin ticking off items on their to-do lists for short- and long-term goals to improve the site.

Short-term goals include creating and maintaining walking paths to invite people into the area while also protecting the grave sites, and repairing sunken areas on grave sites to make them safer to maintain.

Long-term goals include repairing tombstones and fences, and creating an annual lantern tour highlighting the history of the people buried there, with guides dressed in period costumes to tell their stories.

In addition, the Friends group will install signage on the site that states, “Restoration in progress” and “caution,” which will help protect the site and keep visitors safe during the restoration process. The Friends group will also need to come up with an official name for the cemetery.

“It’s up to us what we want to call it,” Friends of Indian Springs State Park President Beverly Aldridge said.

Several members expressed a desire to have the cemetery’s name be “historically correct.”

As with the question regarding who owned the cemetery, there is much to learn about the historic site. Starker has volunteered to search through stacks of old photographs of Indian Springs State Park stored at the park to try to uncover clues about the cemetery’s past.

During the meeting, Starker asked park staff to ask visitors about any information or photographs they might have about the cemetery. Anyone with additional information about the cemetery or old photographs of the park is asked to contact Starker at 770-775-1473.

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