Tag Archives: cemetery

Ponder family cemetery

Months ago, back when spring was still cool in the mornings, me, N and fellow cyclist, A, met up with BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia organization) for one day of the Spring Tune-up Ride. The three of us weren’t making a day of it, so we took the 32-mile route, which, in different publications could’ve actually been 35 or 42 or 45 miles. The distance ultimately proved to be in the low 40s dependent on how many detours (or “attempted shortcuts”) you took, and how long down said shortcuts you had to chase your girlfriend until she turned around.

It only added a mile probably.

The ride was great, we started early enough that I was chilly the whole way in my new jersey and shorts. A. was eager to plow through til the end and eventually he did, I preferred to stop at all the rest stops (they are rightly known for their PB&Js) and at anything else interesting especially if it was halfway up a hill, N fell somewhere in between, looping back or waiting til I caught up. Since most of the riders were putting in 60-miles over the course of the day, our route split from most everyone else after Rutledge and we were mostly alone in the beautiful Morgan County (et al) countryside.

Before Rutledge however, we rode through the crossroads community of Fairplay where I noticed a big house just beyond the main intersection, for a moment I wished I’d detoured but then, as I glanced back to see if it was still in sight I was struck by the sight of these 2 giant monuments sitting almost on the road bank.

Ponder Cemetery

N and A were far ahead, I skidded to a halt and climbed up to the cemetery. “PONDER” it said on the monuments and my mind gleefully leapt to Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart.

Ponder Cemetery The Ponder family cemetery lay straight back from the house which was in plain view across the long field. These 15-foot-tall monuments, the headstones of George F. and Sarah Ann Ponder, would never have been out of sight. George’s father, John H. Ponder built the house in Morgan County around 1850 and it would remain the economic center of the community for decades more as the plantation system converted to sharecropping after the Civil War. Based on slave-holding census records (referenced here), the Ponders were among the wealthiest landowners in Morgan County at that time and though the family’s means must have been somewhat diminished after the war, George obviously wanted to make sure people remembered the family’s prominence when he and his wife died in the 1890s.

I lingered there a little while before my thoughts returned to the task at hand and I pedaled on toward Rutledge.

A and N at a brag rest stop in downtown Rutledge, this was the last we’d see of A for a while

a little on death

Americans these days are so far removed from death. We have no grave rituals, at least we used to leave flowers, now, if there even IS a place to visit, we hardly ever do.

Cemeteries are definitely important to the Taffs. Roadtrips growing up led us to many small towns, we’d come off the highway and Dad, driving, would sniff in one direction, then the other: “downtown’s right over there,” he’d say, “so the cemetery…” and we’d turn in the other direction and up a street here or there until sure enough, there was the city cemetery. I don’t remember any of the downtowns but we always got out at the cemetery.

Bayside Cem Ever since, graveyards have been a part of my life. I cried when I was kicked out of Oconee Hill Cemetery on the backside of Sanford Stadium for sketching. I was outraged, I did not believe a cemetery could be private property. That hadn’t stopped us from climbing over the stone wall in the middle of the night, though the tar on the other side later would.

Many of us today do think cemeteries are beautiful places, we tour them and have festivals, we jog through Oakland with our dogs if we are so lucky. A recent class trip to Oakland Cemetery, surveying a block of “Hogpen Corner,” has led me to renewed cemetery contemplation about our interactions with death. Oakland is a park these days, the graves are old and I, at least, know no one who knows anyone buried there. There is death, the beautiful representation of it, but it is far removed from me, I can absorb the beauty and none of the personal proximity of death.

Dad was cremated, but he would like to have a marker. In college his final project was on cemeteries, a box of photographs I’ve seen and should investigate further. I think the living need a place to visit the deceased, i think the deceased need a place to be remembered. Aunt Sherry wanted to be buried in nothing but a clean white sheet and pine box. What with modern ways, the best that could be done was locating a pine coffin for her, it was beautiful, it was a start.

I wish we were closer to death in our society, closer on a personal level, not just enjoying the beauty of the landscape but the solemnity, the reality, and sometimes the sadness of it. In Italy the graves are crammed in, mostly slabs of marble and headstone, packed in with the cemetery wall a mausoleum. They celebrate All Soul’s Day by parading through the cemetery. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead. I imagine Loreena McKinnit’s poignant “All Souls Night.” Cuba has the most shocking proximity to the dead that I’ve encountered by far, they remove the bones from the grave after 2 years (all the time it takes for flesh to decompose in the tropics apparently) and clean them (sometimes there is flesh left), replacing them in a receptacle, or a box on top of the tomb that is engraved with the person’s memorial, leaving the tomb free for the next family member. This is a festive time, when all who knew the deceased come out, wives and husbands, children, lovers, mistresses, and together clean the bones and celebrate the life of the deceased. In Japan I just learned they wash the grave when they come to pay their respects. In America? We might remember to put out fake flowers, if such is allowed in our eternal care pastures. But even that task is mostly left to the older generations—what about this generation, what will we do at the graves of our parents and grandparents?


toodling up hwy 41

Chula Untitled

J read off the names of the upcoming whistle-stops as we drove out of Tifton. Our final courthouse for this trip would be Cordele after which we’d get on I-75 and get on home. We’d just been through Sparks and Eldorado after leaving Adel, which is appropriately pronounced A-delle. J had decided to collect courthouses earlier in the day and by the time we got on 75 we’d’ve racked up 10, a good dent in the 156 there are to collect. It was also a good excuse to ride up highway 41, always more exciting than the interstate. Most of the way the interstate was visible to our left and the railroad tracks to our right, then sometimes they’d switch, once we got a train thundering by on one side while truck traffic poured north on the other. In the county seats tractors rolled down main street and filled up at gas stations, but transportation methods were not all that thrilled us on this 2-lane highway. A buick on a front porch and an elephant in a graveyard were some of the more exciting sightings. It warn’t bad for a whirlwind tour of southwest Georgia.

a Whistle Stop story

Just to get a little farther into my Augusta adventure, I’ve already mentioned that the b&b was entirely perfect. It suited the town, my mood, my expectations to a T. It’s hard to consider 2 million thread count sheets an adventure, but 50 thread count in an old Victorian house the eaves are rotting off of, grimy carpet, brown swirled tile you haven’t seen since your great-grandmother was alive and linoleum in the jacuzzi ante-room… well, that’s something to talk about.

I feel like I should really put in a plug for them here, even though i’ve presented a fairly critical review of the Queen Anne Inn, y’all know i loved it and would stay there again in a heartbeat, although i’d rather a room in the big house (:

The hosts live down the street from their bed and breakfast but in lieu of providing breakfast themselves they have arranged for you to eat at the diner just a few blocks farther down. One review online called the diner “a real greasy spoon” but i’d call it, well, a real diner-y diner. The grits were unexceptional, biscuit not bad, the eggs were eggs and the bacon was salty enough (and good) to make up for the lack elsewhere. The coffee was nothing special either but sitting at the counter at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning was what i came for.

I’d woken from my canopied slumber, showered and headed down the already hot boulevard. Greene St is the artery of Augusta’s Historic District. Victorian homes which mostly appear to built during the industrial boom of the late 1800s-early 1900s line the streets reminiscent of New Orleans (for me, but perhaps closely related to Savannah after which Oglethorpe had the town modeled). I stayed in the center median for most of my walk (which conveniently has a sidewalk and big trees), passed the Signer’s Monument where the remains of 2 Declaration of Independence signers were re-entombed in the mid-1800s (i guess they thought it’d be an honor to dig you up from your family burying ground and rebury in the middle of the street??), on my way to 6th and Greene. The meal I have already described for you. I had felt like the only person alive in Augusta as I walked the 3 long blocks, when a car drove up near me and a man got out with a to-go cup of coffee in his hand I wondered where he got it, what place was open in this town just to serve this one man his Saturday morning coffee?? When i entered the diner, however, there were at least 5 full tables and a man at the counter, half the restaurant. I guess other people must need morning coffee too, but still, i thought, the businesses in this town must subsist on very little. Maybe they’re also selling coffee online.

I was a loner at the counter before long, and perched right in the middle of everyone. I was sure someone here recognized me from the previous night at the Fox’s Lair, but there was no point in making eye contact. I’d just gotten my breakfast plate however, when a whistle sounded (this was the Whistle Stop Cafe by the way) and a train began rumbling down the street behind me. Yep, right down the middle of 6th street it went. A good, healthily long chain of freight cars. EXCITING!! The camera came out. I had to take pictures for R.

So, that, i guess is the end of my story, except to say that i was wholly unable to leave town without a stop at the cemetery. Wide and flat, open view but full of trees, lots of white marble and surrounded by a brick wall. I told myself, no, no, i could avoid this one i could and then there i was, just inside the gate to take just one picture, well, i could head over here, and there… it’s a miracle i got away in under 20 minutes.

if i’m not home by evening

look for me in a cemetery in Jefferson, Georgia.

I looked out over the Chattahoochee as i drove by, a warm river-brown that looked so very cool with its shady green banks. I longed to jump in, but i had to plug on, a former log-cabin in a Suwanee subdivision and a circa 1820 farmhouse in Carnesville.

But after the house inspections there were cemeteries to stop at cause I had entered Jackson county, where my 5x-great-grandfather settled after the Revolutionary war (traced, it should be noted, almost entirely through the women of the family). I looked at my map of Georgia (no GPS will ever darken my dashboard) but soon opted to just follow signs to Jefferson, heading in the general direction meanwhile and stopping at all promising cemeteries. They were ancient indeed, some going back as far as I needed but no Samuel Knox to be found, and only one Borders, much too late but possibly a descendant in the same line as John who took Cynthia away to Anniston, my 4x-great-grandmother/father. Samuel Knox MAY have been a fairly prominent settler in Jackson Co, living somewhere in the region near Jefferson, so I was determined to find the Jefferson City Cemetery (which took way longer than it ought to’ve but gave me a good tour of the center of town). I looked at every grave that looked old enough (1832) but found only a handful that were and still, no Sam. I put off my search until next time and headed back to Atlanta as rain threatened.

more cemeteries still

Driving up and down the backroads and dirt roads of Gray, Ga., I found this poetic spot, it looked like a cemetery but there were sculptures carved from tree stumps and trunks, it was someone’s spiritual oasis. The carver may have been Charles Robert Rogers or his good friend buried nearby. next to each is a spot for their wives to lay and between the pairs is a bench which i imagine the women sitting on together, uncomfortable as it may be. This is their spot I am pretty certain. But they are not alone there, I stopped and peered over a well-made stone wall and found a tombstone: “to the memory of Nehemiah Dunn who died May 8, 1821.” I’d never seen a stone wall like this, so confined, like a family plot with no gate. It may have marked the boundaries of the entire original family cemetery. At any rate, it prepared me for the 2nd mysterious stone wall i would run across just down the road.

I finally found the C House, I drove slowly this time, peering into every gap in the trees, for the mailboxes were few and 758 had to be somewhere between here and there. I finally spotted the house, peeking out from many layers of overgrowth and began picking my way toward the house, stomping to chase snakes away from my sandalled feet. Mental note: bring extra shoes. With a completely new foundation I thought the house had been moved there, but if it was this was definitely an old house site. This is pecan country and the house is surrounded by many of my favorite nut trees, left from the house (i mean the other left) stretch a line of OLD and [once] well-groomed holly trees which seem to lead me straight to a long low stone enclosure exactly like i’d just seen, another family cemetery! This one was longer and narrower, reminding me of a trough, but at the far end another more dilapidated enclosure of iron fencing made me pretty certain that, though there were no tombstones that i could see, this was a burial ground. The stone wall, even the graves don’t have to be as old as the death date of Mr. Nehemiah Dunn previously, but the C House here was built in 1805 and the size of the trees growing inside the wall attest to some age.


all roads lead to Rome


B (that is to say Bill) was game enough to come along with me on a pretty awesome road trip this past Saturday. So far, not one of these easement inspections has been dull. Finally, a witness to the wonderful affability of folks in small-town Georgia. We breezed through Mae’retta with a stop for lunch at Dave’s BBQ—which is kin and exactly like Community Q down in Decatur so i can highly recommend it—and found our way into Rockmart where we had a nice chat with Mr. _ of the house there, took some pictures and moved on to Rome. He attempted to use his phone, but really, i’d mapped out the way old school (with google you know) and a back-up highway map so there was no need for fancy gadgets, besides, we remembered, all roads lead to Rome right? at least the straight ones?

Rome, it turns out, has an acropolis, I noticed it right off, towering over the western end of downtown, just across the river that looked so good and cool and ready for an intertube. But first we had to step off the downtown blocks, surprising in the commerce they displayed. At the very last stop on the list the owner of the building was sitting outside and made a point to stop us. We soon were getting a whole history lesson on Rome (which we’d been speculating about for the last hour or so), the trade, industry, and recent years in the city’s life. Mr. W showed us historic photos and postcards and then we hit him with what we really wanted to know, where could we find some ice cream or a popsicle around here?? Well, he said, I’ve got fudgesicles. and up he went to his apartment to grab us 2 each, PERFECT! he’ll get a very good report.

So, ice cream craving satisfied, we needed water, we thought about going back to our friend again, but decided we might find a faucet in the cemetery. We headed over the river, dreamed of jumping in it and the trekked on up the steep sides of the terraced acropolis. I have never seen anything like this place. The was insanely steep, you would never want to walk straight up the front side of a thing like that, the best you could’ve done is crawl, but they’d terraced the thing and put steps between terraces and had been burying people there for well over a century, nigh on 2 centuries i imagine though we didn’t hunt out the oldest markers. The trees were incredible as well and local Romans seem to enjoy the place as much as we did, or at least I, cause, as you know, i love cemeteries. One fellow was sitting in some shade near the top reading a book, looked like he’d been there all day. We filled the water bottle, drained it, and filled it again. i think we were out again by the time we got back down. It was all quite incredible.

this Friday: Gray, Eatonton, Madison and a haircut with Artee (:

terraced cemetery

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.