Abandoned cemetery part of Panola history

Published 1:24 pm Tuesday, June 22, 2021

By Allen Brewer

From the sides of Fulmer Road, west of Como, R.C. Ward could see a pale-gray object sticking out from behind the poison ivy.

As he walked over the drainage ditch towards the object, he could tell that it was a headstone. It looked old and weathered, but he could still make out the name and date carved on its surface, “Father. Jessie Carter. 1861-1921. In Memory.”   

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About a yard to the right, Ward found another headstone belonging to a different Carter. He soon realized that there were dozens of headstones in the forested property that he was standing on.

Through time and neglect, the entire cemetery has become reclaimed by nature.    

“I don’t think it should be allowed,” Ward said about the state of the graveyard. “I would not want my relatives living in an area like that.”

According to documents obtained from the Panola Courthouse, the cemetery was once a part of the land owned by the Abe’s Chapel Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. According to the courthouse records, some of the churchs’ land was divided and sold in 1929.

Through the years, the land bordering the cemetery has exchanged many hands. One such property owner is the Standard Land Company, LLC, which purchased the property north of the gravesite in 2017. The Germantown-based company is currently using the land as a gravel pit.

Harrison Hunt, a spokesperson for the Standard Construction Company, said that his company is aware of the cemetery and does not wish to disturb it.

“We do not own the property and are required by the state to stay away from the property a certain distance,” Hunt said.

According to the Panola County geo-mapping website, the gravesite remains titled under the Methodist Episcopal Church. While the church on the property no longer exists, It is unknown if ownership was given to a different church.

If the property had a private party owner, Mississippi laws would allow that property owner to request the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to determine if the property is an “abandoned cemetery.” If approved, the local county government could use funds toward the upkeep of the property.

Director of the Historical Preservation Barry White said the process requires the MDAH board of trustees to determine the historical significance of the gravesite. This could mean the individual graves when the cemetery was founded, or the role the cemetery has in the community.

“It depends on research,” White said. “That is our main objection of the program. It is a case to case basis.”

An abandoned cemetery also means that there would be no burials within the last 50 years. The county is also not required to provide funding or other assistance to the cemetery or its owner(s) but is solely at the discretion of the county board.

There are currently around 237 legally recognized “abandoned graves” in Mississippi. There are none named in Panola County.

Since the property does not have a clear owner, it cannot qualify for this program. If individuals want to visit the gravesite, R.C. Ward suggests they go during the wintertime.

In the photo R.C. Ward examines an abandoned gravesite near Como.