published Monday, August 25th, 2014

Moment: Stewards of the land — volunteers help spruce up Citizens Cemetery, Chattanooga's oldest

On a steamy Saturday morning in July, Jay Hopkins led a group of nine volunteers — incoming freshmen participating in the UTC Bridge program — into the Citizens Cemetery, Chattanooga's oldest.

Hopkins is a part-time coordinator for people and groups who contact the city and volunteer to work. That morning, he rolled a trailer filled with tools and supplies into the burial ground and started the volunteers working to fill the numerous holes -- "I call them ankle-breakers," Hopkins said -- round and between the tombstones.

Over the course of a blazing hot morning, the students filled about 40 holes, using about a wheelbarrow-load of dirt for each hole.

"The students were very enthusiastic and energetic," Hopkins recalled later. "Nine a.m. on a Saturday morning, for an 18-year-old, it's a rare sighting. They were great. ... It was very hot, and we worked them hard. And, as much as they did, there is that much left to do."

The volunteer coordinator's job was created to provide a focal point for Chattanooga's 3-year-old Park Stewards program.

"The goal of the Park Stewards is to show individual parks a little bit of love, and, more importantly, to get the community, the neighborhood that surrounds the park, involved in their park," Hopkins said.

Hopkins talked with city workers and learned of the Citizens Cemetery. Tucked in between UTC and the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences on Third Street, it's one of four cemeteries on the city-owned property. The adjacent Jewish Cemetery and Confederate Cemetery are both privately maintained, and they are beautiful.

The Citizens Cemetery and Potters Field are mowed under contract to the city, but many of the tombstones, dating back to 1837, are missing, overgrown, damaged or covered with dirt. Hopkins and other volunteers have cleaned up, found buried markers and cut back bushes to reveal long-hidden tombstones. He is learning to straighten and repair tombstones.

Hopkins, who is retired, is glad to work with volunteers on the project.

"Why you should do it is, it helps beautify your city. ... I'm certainly never going to point my finger at somebody and preach because you aren't volunteering and we need all this help, because I didn't volunteer either. I get it. Now I have the time, so I'm giving the time back."

Jay Hopkins, volunteer coordinator for the city of Chattanooga's parks, organizes a work day at one of the city's oldest graveyards, Citizens Cemetery, located in between UTC and CSAS.
Jay Hopkins, volunteer coordinator for the city of Chattanooga's parks, organizes a work day at one of the city's oldest graveyards, Citizens Cemetery, located in between UTC and CSAS.
Photo by John Rawlston.
about John Rawlston...

John Rawlston is a staff photographer with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, where he has worked since the merger of Chattanooga’s two daily newspapers in 1999. He worked as a staff photographer for the Chattanooga News-Free Press (later the Chattanooga Free Press) starting in 1976. Prior to that, he worked for a year as a sportswriter for the Cleveland Daily Banner in Cleveland, Tenn. John graduated from Soddy Daisy High School in 1971. He graduated ...

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