Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Restoration of an Historic Cemetery

As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I'm involved with the care of a small but historic burial ground that is situated on the slope of a hill, which during the time of the cemetery's creation in the 1800's,  used to be called East Mountain. Buried within the confines of the iron fence that surrounds the small graveyard are some of this Northwest Arkansas community's earliest inhabitants of European ancestry. Essentially, they were pioneers who settled here when the Ozark region was still a forested wilderness. They established a community that eventually became the seat of county government, and took part in political decisions that affected the entire nation.

In recent years, the Walker Cemetery has sustained a considerable amount of damage due to the remains of Hurricane Ike, which in September of 2008 came up from the Gulf of Mexico and violently collided with an advancing cold front, and a catastrophic ice storm in January 2009 that destroyed roughly one-quarter of the area's tree and forest canopy. The graveyard has also sustained a certain amount of damage at the hands of either vandals or the curious, who move broken pieces around in order to get a better look inside the graves.

For a long time the Walker Cemetery's legal status remained in a state of limbo, so to speak. No one knew who it's rightful owner might be. County records told us nothing and the local historic society was unable to be of assistance either. Finally, and after a great deal of detective work, we learned that the deed to the property was in the hands of one of the deceased--one of the Walker family members forever interned here on East Mountain. After further consultation with lawyers and surviving family members both locally and around the country, the burial ground was officially deeded over to the Southern Memorial Association, which quickly made the decision to request that the property be placed on the National Register of Historic Places - Arkansas.

More recently, a member of the Walker family, who resides out of state, offered to finance a badly needed restoration of the burial ground, which is tentatively set to begin at almost any time now. Still, with a decision on the site's historic status scheduled for early August, it is vitally important that the cemetery be restored according to National Register guidelines, lest all efforts will have been in vain. Now, I'd like to showcase some of the damage sustained in recent years as well as discuss a little about some of those interned here.

  This is the monument for Judge David James Walker, who is undoubtedly the best known and most influential member of the family. Born in Elkton, Kentucky on February 19, 1806, he arrived at what is now the City of Fayetteville around October 30, 1830. He was a Whig and a jurist who became an associate justice of the state supreme court. Most notably, he called the second Secession Convention in Little Rock, during which delegates from around the state overwhelmingly voted to join the Confederacy on May 4, 1861. Neither his grave nor monument has suffered any storm damage. 

 These two brick vaults belong to Judge David Walker's parents, Jacob Wythe Walker (1778 - 1838) and his wife Ann (1782 - 1851). The tomb on the left, which belongs to Jacob, represents the first burial on the property. As is obvious from the photo, it has sustained considerable damage. Both of these, as well as three other similar graves on site, are typical of a popular nineteenth century burial style. 

Correspondence from a mother in Kentucky to her daughter living in the wilds of Northwest Arkansas during the 1830's provides a valuable link between the Walkers and another well known American family. The small monument on the left belongs to that of Rebecca Washington, who as Rebecca Smith in Kentucky, married Whiting Washington, General George Washington's first cousin once removed. Her correspondence with daughter Jane, who married David Walker, eventually led both her and husband, Whiting to the vicinity of East Mountain where they are now buried close to Jane, the grand daughter of our first president's cousin. Notice what appears to be a crack about two-thirds of the way up the monument. In actuality, it's a clean break, which provides more evidence that major restoration is needed. 

In the background is the vault in which Jane Lewis Walker, the wife of David Walker was laid to rest. The two smaller tombs in the foreground contain the remains of two children born to Erastus and Courtnay Duncan. One of the children, an infant, died in 1844 while the other left this world in 1850.
All three of these bricked vaults are damaged. The child's grave on the right has, for all practical purposes, lost its protective cover. Bricks have begun falling away from the siding on Jane Walker's enclosed vault. They are currently sitting on top of the grave awaiting restoration as is the broken cover of the child's tomb.

 With a view from the rear or east end of the cemetery you can see the grave marker for Captain John J. Walker, a Confederate officer who died of natural causes in 1886. His monument is tilting somewhat..

James David Walker was a United States Senator. He's buried here with his wife, Mary.

What was once described as an "ornamental fence" now lies on its side severely damaged. In other places, the fence is bent and warped due to the sheer weight of the trees that fell upon it. The fencing behind the David Walker monument is also bent and leaning toward the ground. It cannot be replaced however; at least not if the graveyard is to gain a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Instead, it can only be repaired. Portions of this one may be going to a blacksmith in Southern Missouri for restoration.  

Finally, here's another partial view of this historic graveyard in which some of our community's earliest pioneers lie in rest. While I'm not going to mention the names of all those interned here, there are a few more worth mentioning. 

Captain  Jacob Wythe Walker was a CSA army captain who was killed at the Battle of Jenkins Ferry, Arkansas on May 21, 1864, and the remains of Rebecca Washington's sister, Lucy Smith, lie close to that of her sibling.

From time to time this afternoon, I found myself running back into this final resting place in order to verify some piece of information that I wanted to provide you. On one of these visits I  read the inscription on the grave marker belonging to John James Pope, who passed away in 1861. Sometimes the epitaphs we find in these places speak volumes, in spite of their brevity. This one did. It simply said, "Jamie, the only son of his mother and she was a widow." 

The living and the dead await the revitalization of this historic property. When the work is completed, I hope to provide you with photos of the upgrade.



  1. Wow, what an inspring, in depth post with a wealth of information. Such beautiful graves and histories. I love visiting cemeteries and reading the epitaphs, they can be so inspiring. I once read a grave marker in a Savannah, Georgia graveyard that spoke of a girl who was a wife and that she and her infant died. The girl in question was only 15 years old. It's amazing how telling something so simple as words on a stone can mean. -Midi

  2. Yes it is. Cemeteries may be places for the dead but they sure do bring the past and the lives of the deceased into a kind of living history.

  3. I love old cemeteries like this, I hope the restoration goes well!

  4. It should go well, but even though it was scheduled to start after the end of June, I'm wondering if it might not be a while longer, considering the heat wave we're experiencing.

  5. If you check out the Cemetery, the work is 99% done.

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  7. Restoration, this is something I have always wanted to do, but never knew of anyone into it that was Goth. There are a few cemeteries that I visit, badly damaged. But, it is past my ability or knowledge to respectfully do an adequate job. It is quite romantic in a way.