Jim Holcomb is a man on a mission. He and members of two local Ruritan Clubs want to clean up and catalog five nearly forgotten cemeteries on the Enterprise South industrial park property — lest they completely disappear.
“There are about five cemeteries, according to maps, in the entire Enterprise South property,” Mr. Holcomb said. None are on the newly announced Volkswagen plant site, he said.
But he thinks it is fitting that the new plant will be nearby since at least one of the cemeteries holds families of German immigrants from the region’s early settlement.
“Isn’t it appropriate that the deTaverniers are German?” said Mr. Holcomb, chairman of the cemeteries committee of the Hamilton County Tennessee Genealogical Society.
The largest marker at one of the smallest cemeteries bears the etching: “Sue E. deTavernier, born Jan. 7 1834, died Jan. 6 1910.”
Already Mr. Holcomb has learned from old census records and other historical documents that Sue E. deTavernier was Susan E. Carey deTavernier.
“Her husband was Col. Frederick deTavernier, a soldier of fortune, born in Prussia. Prussia was a state of Germany,” Mr. Holcomb said. “I suppose this is where I have heard of a German cemetery in the Enterprise South property. Old Frederick fought for the Union during the Civil War.”
Rolling chalk across the tombstones to highlight the etchings, Mr. Holcomb, 59, recorded the engravings he found at Enterprise South on Friday. Later he will take the names and dates and put them into a list to be posted on the Internet for family researchers worldwide.
Mr. Holcomb acknowledges he is consumed by his hobby of genealogy and cemetery hunting.
“A cemetery is a museum,” he said. “And I want to know who all these people are. And what the connections are. It’s like a crossword puzzle.”
Mr. Holcomb and Paul Parker, Hamilton County’s real property manager, are working to ensure the future of the cemeteries and any others found on the industrial park in the future.
“He (Mr. Parker) told me they already have a plan. Because as this thing develops, as we hope it does from an economic standpoint, what do you do about these things (the cemeteries)? How do you preserve them?” Mr. Holcomb said.
Mr. Parker said Saturday the cemeteries already have been reserved in deeds, so when prospective industries look to locate in the park in the future they must look to land around them.
“Our full intention is to preserve those cemeteries wherever we find them,” he said. “The developments will need to work around the cemeteries for anything in the future.”
Mr. Parker said no other cemeteries have been found on the 6,000-acre former Voluntary Army Ammunition Plant property, which was operated by the Army from 1942 to 1977 to make TNT. Before the Army’s ownership, the property was farmland in the Tyner and Silverdale communities. The county began acquiring the property in pieces in 2000, he said.
“Fortunately when the Army came in and acquired the property, the cemeteries were more easily identified, and they set those out to preserve them,” noting that it was the Army that strung barbed wire fence around the cemeteries and posted “Do not molest” signs on them.
The downside of the Army’s ownership was that secrecy and security there kept families from remembering the grave sites.
“In the years since we have owned the property, we haven’t had any inquiries,” Mr. Parker said. “I hope everyone will rest assured that the development is not affecting the graves there, and we’re very sensitive to them.”
After the announcement of the VW plant, Mr. Holcomb, owner of J&J 4-Wheel Drive in Harrison, cross-referenced the property on two maps local genealogists use as Bibles for cemetery searches: Works Progress Administration lists from the 1930s and Tennessee Valley Authority charts. The TVA map showed three of the cemeteries, but workers for the WPA had found all five.
Three cemeteries have markers, but two contain only unmarked graves.
The East Hamilton County Ruritan Club and the Harrison Club will spend a Saturday later this month to clean up the cemeteries.
The clubs are taking on the chore as a project to help the community.
“The county will clean them up,” Mr. Holcomb said, “but we’re looking for projects, and it will save the (county) taxpayers money.”
As for the information gathered? The cemetery cataloging soon will be found on the Hamilton County Tennessee Genealogical Society Web site at www.hctgs.org
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...