Just in time for Halloween here are a few Atlanta graveyards. This Part 2 looks at the Todd Family Cemetery, Harmony Grove Cemetery and Historic Sardis Cemetery. For Atlanta Cemeteries Part 1 we explored Thomasville Cemetery, Alsobrook Family Cemetery and Sylvester Cemetery. Be sure to check out Atlanta Cemeteries Part 1.
Atlanta Cemeteries Part 3 explores Scottdale Cemetery, Washington Memorial Gardens and Peachtree Baptist Church. Scottdale is an old mill town cemetery. Washington is an African American cemetery with old slave burials. Peachtree Baptist Church is a typical Victorian cemetery, with intricate headstones and an old-world atmosphere.
Todd Family Cemetery is a burial ground in the backyard of Virginia-Highland residence. Harmony Grove Cemetery is a restored graveyard in Buckhead with a diverse history. Sardis Church Cemetery has been maintained wonderfully by its sister church.
Todd Family Cemetery
First Recorded Burial: Richard Todd – 1851
How Many Burials: 36 or less
Location: 797 Ponce De Leon Terrace, Atlanta, GA 30306 (in the backyard)
History of the Cemetery & Other Notes (by Ray Keen): In the backyard of the residence at 797 Ponce De Leon Terrace in Atlanta, is a little known but historically important burial monument memorializing two of the earliest non-Native American inhabitants of the area, Richard and Martha Todd. The Todds moved to the Virginia-Highland area in 1822 and were some of the earliest settlers of European descent in what is now the City of Atlanta.
The Todd monument dates from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s and marks the location of the Todd Family Cemetery. The memorial consists of a low ten by ten foot brick wall, topped by a wrought iron fence, and inside this enclosure is the likeness of a wooden log about five feet long carved in stone. On this stone log is inscribed: “Richard Todd 1792 – 1852” on one side, and “Martha Todd 1802 – 1896” on the opposite side.
The Todd Cemetery was located on high ground 200 yards north and a little west of the old Todd homestead, which was featured in the article The Todd Family Homestead.
The first known burial was Richard Todd in 1851, who died at the age of 59 (the Todd monument incorrectly shows his life ending in 1853) but it is possible that others were buried there before 1851.
The Todd Cemetery was an early pioneer graveyard, a type that dotted the countryside in the United States during the early days of exploration and settlement. These early graveyards are defined mostly by what they lack—if the graves were marked at all, it was with a field stone without an inscription.
When the Todd Cemetery was explored in the early 20th century, the old field stone headstones were mostly indistinguishable from random scattered rocks. It was just a wooded field with depressions in the earth here and there that may or may not have been a grave. A 1920’s newspaper article quoted by Ann Taylor Boutwell in the September 1995 issue of Intown Atlanta Magazine said, “None of the 36 bodies in the lot [Todd Cemetery] is marked.”
After more than 70 years of being a remote, peaceful, and pastoral family cemetery, in 1925 the Todd Cemetery came to the attention of the local court system. In that year, Judge John C. Todd, sole male heir of the Todd estate died, and specified in his will his wish to be buried in the Todd Cemetery. The Todd Cemetery was never a legally recognized cemetery and this request, from a prominent Atlanta citizen, set off a chain of actions to determine whether Judge Todd’s request could be granted.
Judge Todd was temporarily, it was thought, buried in the Sardis Methodist Church Cemetery in Atlanta. The court ruled against Judge Todd’s wish, however and decided that no more burials could take place in the Todd Cemetery. Judge Todd’s grave remains in the Sardis Methodist Church Cemetery and is visible when driving by on Powers Ferry Road (more on Sardis below).
In his will, Judge Todd also specified “that an appropriate monument to my wife and myself and another to my Mother and Father are placed there.” Bending to the circumstances, his trustees had his monument erected in the Sardis Cemetery, and had the stone log memorial for Richard and Martha Todd fabricated and placed in the Todd Cemetery—the only monument of any type there. Thus, the Todd monument dates from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s.
Judge Todd’s son, Hadie Todd, died in 1928 and so it fell to the Judge’s daughter, Emma May Todd Liddell, to decide what to do with the Todd Cemetery. In 1932 Mrs. Liddell gave the Todd Cemetery to the City of Atlanta to be used as a public park called Todd Park.
The parcel was 1/14 of an acre, the size of two residential lots on that street, Ponce De Leon Terrace. The following map from 1940 and aerial photograph taken in 1949 clearly show Todd Park:
Today, the only access to the remaining Todd memorial is south from Ponce De Leon Terrace, a street that did not even exist for many decades after the Todd Cemetery was established. For years after it became a city park, Todd Park was neglected by the City of Atlanta and became an overgrown and trash-filled eyesore. It was yet another example of the City of Atlanta ignoring basic maintenance of an historic site that was in its care.
Then, in 1949, the City of Atlanta gave the park back to Mrs. Liddell, even though she protested that she did not want it. From 1949 until 1989, Todd Park changed hands several times, was further ignored, and appeared to be a worthless, problematic piece of property to own (the fate of many historic properties).
One previous owner received permission to remove the approximate 36 graves on the property, but moving graves is expensive and it is not clear that the graves were ever moved. In the early 1980’s title to the Todd Cemetery passed to Sam G. Dickson, a young Atlanta attorney with the perseverance and legal skills needed to maneuver through legal restrictions preventing conventional development of the property.
In the eyes of some, however, his solution—leave a small memorial to the Todds but develop most of the property into residential housing—was not acceptable. For much of the 1980’s Mr. Dickson promoted his idea for the Todd Cemetery property, but found that there was vocal and active neighborhood opposition to building houses there.
Dickson even went door to door in the neighborhood to reason with people about what he considered the best way to deal with this derelict property. At the center of this controversy was the question of whether the graves in the Todd Cemetery were ever moved.
Mr. Dickson, in about 1984, hired the Atlanta Vault Service to probe the Todd Cemetery in a manner known to reveal the presence of graves. They told Mr. Dickson that they found approximately eleven spots which could possibly be graves.
Franklin Garrett, the Atlanta historian mentioned earlier, prevailed upon the Sexton of Oakland Cemetery to come to the site in the mid-1980’s with a team and go over it with metal detectors. The Oakland team located 34 to 42 historic graves by detecting coffin nails, metal buckles, and the like.
Who else was buried there besides the Todd family? There was a row of African American residences along a dirt road in the area called Rooster Foot Alley – according to local lore both blacks and whites were buried in the Todd Cemetery predating the later practice of segregating cemeteries.
The Rooster Foot Alley community of small neat homes survived until the 1920’s when new housing development bulldozed it into oblivion.
Mr. Dickson was ultimately successful and in 1989 and 1993 two upscale homes were built on the former Todd Cemetery property, at the new addresses of 797 and 795 Ponce De Leon Terrace. (This is an excerpt of Ray Keen’s article on the Todd Family Cemetery, which explores this hidden Virginia-Highland cemetery’s history.)
Ownership and How You Can Help (Maybe): In recent years the monument had become covered in moss and lichen from shade and dampness caused by overhanging and encroaching foliage. This property recently changed hands and the memorial has been cleaned out and is being respectfully maintained by the new owner.
An easement in the deed to this property exists that allows visitors access to the monument by walking up the driveway of 797 Ponce De Leon Terrace to the back of the house. The owner of the house is aware of this easement and simply asks that visitors stay on the driveway to reach the monument, to not disturb him or his guest’s privacy, and to come during daylight hours—all reasonable requests.
The owner prefers that visitors not knock on his door to ask permission to cross his property, but to just walk directly up the driveway, view the monument, and exit out the same way. The above photograph shows the front driveway access to 797 Ponce De Leon Terrace that can be used to walk to the Todd memorial behind the house. This lot and the lot on the right in the photograph, 795 Ponce De Leon Terrace, occupy what was formerly the Todd Family Cemetery. (This is an excerpt of Ray Keen’s article on the Todd Family Cemetery, which explores this hidden Virginia-Highland cemetery’s history.)
Harmony Grove Cemetery
First Recorded Burial: James Smith – 1870
How Many Burials: 171
Location: 214 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta, GA 30305
History of the Cemetery & Other Notes: Placed perfectly on a small hill right on the corner of Chatham and West Paces Ferry, Harmony Grove Cemetery is a typical graveyard from the 1870’s, with only 40 out of the 171 burials marked by inscribed headstones. It has been wonderfully restored and researched by its current caretaker, the Buckhead Heritage Society.
Harmony Grove Cemetery offers a diverse history that stretches back to right after the Civil War (and perhaps before). The earliest recorded burials are family members of James “Whispering” Smith, a local landowner and pioneer of the Buckhead area. Smith owned land that would become the Arden, Tuxedo Park and Argonne Forest neighborhoods. But there is mystery around Smith’s relationship to Harmony Grove and if there were burials before his family.
While Smith and his relations are the first recorded burials in Harmony Grove (the first was Smith’s infant son James who died on March 4th, 1870), the Smiths did not own the cemetery land and it is unclear if young James is the first burial. It was originally owned (after it was handed over by Native American tribes) by Henry Irby. By March of 1870 Irby had sold the land that now holds Harmony Grove (Lot 114) to a W.A. Parks.
“Whispering” Smith was buried in Harmony Grove in 1872 and there were no more burials until his son George Smith was buried there in 1888. At this point in time it became a popular burial ground for both whites and African Americans. As a result, the northern section holds whites while the southern section holds mostly African American graves.
The early cemetery seemed to be tied to Harmony Grove Congregational Church, which was located adjacent to the cemetery. Many of the bodies interred at Harmony Grove were members of this congregation.
Harmony Grove Congregational Church offers an interesting history, with factional disputes in the 1890’s (it was forcibly integrated by northern leadership) that left the church a shell of its former self. Many members left and formed their own, non-integrated church. Harmony Grove Congregational Church was torn down in 1918.
By 1914 Susan Sims owned the property and it was passed down through the Sims family (I believe they are related to former Atlanta Mayor Walter A. Sims) during the 20th century. Regular burials continued into the 1930’s and 1940’s – by the 1950’s burials had mostly ceased and the cemetery started to deteriorate. The last burial was Charlotte M. Krause in 1982.
Ownership and How You Can Help (Maybe): For the latter half of the last century Harmony Grove Cemetery was an overgrown mess. Other than the large Sims family obelisk in the middle of the cemetery, many of the 40 headstones were buried in brush or dirt.
Situated in Buckhead and holding the remains of Confederate Civil War veterans, founding members of area families and even the great grandparents of Julia Roberts, it was only a matter of time before rundown Harmony Grove would be rescued and restored.
That occurred in 2006 when the Buckhead Heritage Society stepped in and started an “extensive rehabilitation of the cemetery”. They hired landscape architects, mortuary archaeologists, gravestone repair specialists and even a research firm, New South Associates.
The effort, which took three years to accomplish, restored Harmony Grove Cemetery, uncovering the fieldstone markers, reconstructing the 40 headstones and discovering unknown facts about the historic cemetery (such as there are many false crypts)
Thanks to these efforts Harmony Grove Cemetery is now a “functional green space in Buckhead and a tangible link to Buckhead’s rural past”. Visit the Buckhead Heritage Society website to stay informed on the happenings out at Harmony Grove.
Special thanks to Wright Mitchell for information regarding Harmony Grove Cemetery.
Historic Sardis Cemetery
First Recorded Burial: Abraham N. Clarady – 1869
How Many Burials: 750+
Location: 3725 Powers Ferry Road NW, Atlanta, GA 30342
History of the Cemetery & Other Notes: Historic Sardis Cemetery is one of those mysterious cemeteries with historic roots entrenched with local lore and passed-down legend. While it makes separating oral tradition from the facts difficult, it creates an entertaining research subject. Once you think you have all the facts, you notice there’s more work to be done.
Ok, now that I’m done geeking out about historical research, let’s talk about the history of Sardis Cemetery. For many years it was a small, isolated, rural frontier cemetery known as Shady Oaks.
The first written record of Sardis occurs in 1848 when Henry Irby (the same Henry Irby from above) and Ransom Gaines sold two acres to “Trustees of Methodist Episcopal Church” for $5 (the deed was recorded in 1849). While it’s the first documented record of Sardis, local lore indicates services were performed at the site much earlier, maybe as early as 1812.
There was likely a church at the site by 1821 (the current church was built in 1927; read about the history of Sardis Church here). The Abraham Clarady burial in 1869 (according to his descendants Clarady was a minister at the church) is the first recorded burial, but likely not the first actual burial. There was a cemetery associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church that would become Sardis, and there are several unmarked graves close to the current church structure that are probably from before the Civil War.
Dan Vickers, a descendant of many of the families buried in Sardis (the Roladers, for example), has been conducting research into his ancestors and Sardis. It makes him a great source regarding the history of the cemetery and the church.
One piece of information he shared with History Atlanta comes from a 1956 interview with Henry D. Samples, who was born on July 16th, 1865 and was a lifelong member of Sardis Church. “Dr. McKay was the first man buried there,” said Samples in his interview, regarding Sardis Cemetery. “He did not have a stone and was buried in the old part of the cemetery next to the church where the rock stones are. He was buried before the Civil War.”
As Sardis Methodist Church grew, so did their cemetery, and in the 1880’s they officially expanded into the surrounding area. Starting in 1888 and again in 1894, much of the land that is now Historic Sardis Cemetery was deeded to the church by Silas H. Donaldson. It was at this point in time the cemetery most likely changed its name from Shady Oaks to Sardis.
I say “officially expanded” because it seems there was already a cemetery on the Donaldson land. The only above ground vault in the graveyard is the Donaldson Mausoleum, built in 1878, ten years before the Donaldsons started officially granting land to the church.
There are more than 750 graves in Historic Sardis Cemetery, and the markers range in style and substance, from local fieldstones to carved granite or marble masterpieces. Buried in those graves are names from the founding of Buckhead, names such as Rolader, Irby, Mathieson and more. There are also graves for the Todds, the family in the first cemetery featured above, which is an excerpt from Ray Keen’s article for History Atlanta called the Todd Family Cemetery.
Both the cemetery and the church were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
Ownership and How You Can Help (Maybe): In 1975 the Sardis Cemetery Association was formed by members of the church. The Association preserves Historic Sardis Cemetery through a perpetual care arrangement, but they do need donations and the occasional volunteer. Visit the Sardis Cemetery Association website to see if you can help or give them a call at 770-476-1180.
Special thanks to Dan Vickers for information regarding Historic Sardis Cemetery.