South Pittsburg residents concerned about cemetery

South Pittsburg residents concerned about cemetery

March 20th, 2011 By Ryan Lewis in News

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn.-Even though city administrators have moved in recent months to clean up the town's oldest cemetery, some residents say the work already has gone far enough.

Mayor Mike Killian said the town has spent more than $6,000 trying to clean up the isolated site, known as City Cemetery.

"We want to get some access to the cemetery," he said. "People e-mail us and write letters about not being able to get up there."

The cemetery, on the south side of South Pittsburg Mountain, dates back as early as 1840. With an estimated 1,600 graves, it includes the burial places of some of the town's first settlers.

City officials said they are looking into the possibility of completing the old road that runs through the cemetery so it would encircle the area and provide better access.

However, the existing road already is a sore point for some residents.

Gladys Wooten, who has family members buried in the cemetery, said that when the town built the present road through the graveyard, some graves were moved to a different area without the family's consent. A grievance against the city was filed with state officials years ago, she said, but nothing was done.

"I want [local officials] to address the problem," she said. "I'm talking about my family, and there has been a desecration. That's not where they were."

Killian said the road was built many years ago, and there's little the town can do about it now.

"The older people [in the town] are telling me that road has been there as long as they can remember," he said. "The right-of-way has destroyed some graves, too. I've got a map that shows that road was there many, many decades ago. I know since I've been mayor no road work has been done up there."

City Commissioner Charles Reynolds said he has driven along the road one time - and that's enough for him.

"I guess I got 50 feet up in there, and I made myself a promise: The only way I'd go back would be if I was carried," he said. "I was not too happy with the condition of that cemetery."

Monroe Powers, a resident who served on the City Commission for years, said he does not want to see more roadwork done around the cemetery.

"[The town] has destroyed eight graves putting that road in," he said. "I don't know whose idea that was. It was certainly not mine. You don't destroy graves to build roads."

Killian said the city plans to install some steps or small bridges where assistance is needed to access some areas of the graveyard.

For now, any road extension project will remain on hold, officials said.

"All we have done is cut brush and do that kind of thing," Killian said. "I would be happy to file charges against whoever [desecrated those graves], but nothing we've done here has hurt anything. We've been very careful."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.