Historic Sylvester Cemetery

For some reason I’d never explored the old cemetery right here in my neighborhood. Sometimes it takes a serendipidous opportunity, unplanned, for the best explorations to occur and so, a few weekends back when Viv, B, and I, worn out and hot from our hike up Stone Mountain and full (oh SO full) from our repast at Community Q in Decatur, we weren’t quite ready to end the days adventures and found ourselves at the cemetery. Of course we ended up parking right at our friends N and LL’s house so we had to pay a visit to their window-cat.

Back to the cemetery.
Turns out this place was older than i imagined. I’d recently learned it was the “Historic Sylvester Cemetery” but i was stumped, a historic cemetery on edges of East Atlanta? nestled in the crook of I-20, in the heart of a 1940s-at-the-earliest section of the district. There was no historic church nearby that i knew of either. Clearly, whatever history surrounded this cemetery, and there had to be some since the graves we saw took us back to the late 1800s, had pretty much disappeared. I am no historian on East Atlanta, but the commercial center wasn’t established until around 1910 with the advent of the Flat Shoals streetcar, a branch off the Edgewood Ave streetcar line that was responsible for the Inman Park subdivision, this explains the circa 1906/1910 Zuber-Jarrell House, a big old Neoclassical house about a mile further down Flat Shoals. So what was the story? All these children’s graves from the 1910s-30s, delicate and intricate marble headstones that were no paupers graves, family plots, and then, a very handmade concrete topper on one.

Turns out much of the history around there has indeed been erased. I-20 lies over Thomas Simmons farm who was granted that parcel of land in DeKalb county. He ran a mill on the Sugar Creek which supplied early Atlanta with lumber. His wife is likely the first burial in Sylvester but the first marked grave (which i’ll have to go back and find) is of a baby a year or so after Mrs. Simmons died, the 1 year old daughter of Nancy Terry and “Spanish Jim” Brown who are considered the first settlers of East Atlanta, but i don’t know how they figure that. However, it was yet another couple, the Terrys who had a son named Sylvester who died 1872 at age 16. In 1873 Mrs. Terry leased part of her land to a church group (Methodist Episcopal Church-South) but asked they name the church for Sylvester and so we have a name. Henceforth other churches seem to have taken over, one acre grew to several and the rest, well, you can read about here.


I highly recommend a visit to this forested hillside in East Atlanta. The ambience is incredible although i’m sure it wasn’t always nor intended to be so. Trees, some large but many small, grow among the graves, upsetting monuments and who knows what else, and, though poison ivy creeps among the pinestraw don’t let that dissuade you.

One response to “Historic Sylvester Cemetery

  • Ms. Travis Thrasher Petty

    Historic Sylvester cemetery was supposed to be a prepatial care cemetery when the Sylvester Baptist Church had care of the cemetery. That was the reason my parents bought 5 grave lots there to bury their first child, a little girl that was born dead or died soon after birth. Then my grandparents John Franklin Cook & Emly Rebecca Evans Cook were next after them my papa John Travis Thrasher . My aunt and uncle would come and clean the graves because by the time I was born it was up to each family to clean their on lots. After they moved out of state My Mama & I would go & clean . Most people tried to clean more than just their own lots. When I was 6 or 7 I wandered through it on a regular basis & stepped into an old grave & sunk to my knees many times. As time went on and family members of others buried there passed away or aged or moved away it slowly got over grown more & more. My husband was a City of Atlanta police officer and ad the cemetery got into worse and worse shape he made me quit going because he said that every time the chased a suspect they would hide in the cemetery so we had to stop going.
    It broke mine & my mama’s heart not to be able to visit my papa’s grave . After my mama died I could not stand the thoughts of buring her somewhere that I could not visit & I could not bury her without Papa beside her. I had no choice but to move him so that they could be together. As years went by it got so overgrown you could not even walk through it.
    It always bothered me that we had to leave my grandparents and little sister there.
    One day I decided I was going to my grandparents grave if I had to take a machete and chain saw plus a dog & shotgun for protection. I was absolutely astounded when my daughter & I arrived and saw it looking better than it looked when I was a child

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