Just in time for Halloween here are a few more Atlanta graveyards. For Atlanta Cemeteries Part 1 we explored Thomasville Cemetery, Alsobrook Family Cemetery and Sylvester Cemetery. Atlanta Cemeteries Part 2 looked at the Todd Family Cemetery, Harmony Grove Cemetery and Historic Sardis Cemetery. This Atlanta Cemeteries Part 3 focuses on Scottdale Cemetery, its neighbor Washington Memorial Gardens and Peachtree Baptists Church Cemetery.
Scottdale Mills Cemetery
First Recorded Burial: Unknown – Before the Civil War?
How Many Burials: More than 150
Location: 2849 Jordan Oaks Lane, Decatur, GA 30033 (to the east of the two condo units)
History of the Cemetery & Other Notes: The past of Scottdale Mills Cemetery is dominated by Colonel George Washington Scott, the major influence in the known history of Scottdale, Georgia. I say known history because there’s an older part of the cemetery that predates Scott’s ownership. But Scottdale is named for the Colonel, so I will start with his story.
George Washington Scott was a carpetbagger turned confederate. Born in 1829 in Pennsylvania, he moved to Florida in 1851 and quickly built one of the largest plantations in the sunshine state. It was reportedly an innovative plantation with the processing powered by waterwheels.
A slaveowner and converted southerner, during the Civil War Colonel Scott led “Scott’s Cavalry” out of Tallahassee for the South. He did see action participating, sometimes prominently, in battles against the North. I could sit here and bore you with the details, but I won’t do that.
After the war Scott remained in Florida. He failed to win Governor of that state in 1868, and at some point afterwards decided to move to Georgia, which he did in 1870, eventually settling in Atlanta.
In the 1880’s Scott made a fortune selling a product with possibly the coolest name ever: Gossypium Phospo. It was a fertilizer recipe supposedly created by Scott himself that used bones and cottonseeds. I just want to write it one more time: Gossypium Phospo.
Around 1900 the Scott Investment Company opened what would become the Scottdale Cotton Mill. In an age when many large factory owners literally created towns for their workers, Scott followed suite. Along with the mill, Scott created a small mill village for the workers that would become Scottdale (he also donated enough money to change the name of a local university to Agnes Scott after his mother).
Scottdale Mills Cemetery was the burial grounds for the mill village created by Scott. The Scott family investment company most likely purchased the land for the cemetery in the early 1900’s (Scott died in 1903).
Many of the oldest visible headstones date from the 1920’s. They are almost exclusively burials of mill workers and their children. There are many child graves in Scottdale Mills Cemetery, most of them unmarked.
It was a mill village cemetery for most of the 20th century. By the early 1970’s Scottdale Mills Cemetery had been suffering from a lack of care and general decline of the surrounding area. And while the mill closed in 1982, and almost all of the workers have moved away to other parts of the city or beyond, there’s been burials on family plots as late as 2007.
However, there is an older section of the cemetery, a section that predates the Scott family ownership and the mill worker burials. Situated in the southeast corner of the graveyard, this older section is completely overgrown with trees and bushes.
Even the older section has different areas. There is a part of the older section that holds names such as Stowell, Peggy, Higgins, Baxter and Morgan. These names are the freshest burials in the older section, possibly from the 1890’s and 1900’s. According to local lore, there’s older burials than these, burials that date back to before the Civil War, holding the bones of white plantation owners.
But nobody really knows what lies out at Scottdale Mills Cemetery. Owned by the Scott family trust until the 1980’s, it was transferred by David Scott to trustees that don’t have the resources to care for the cemetery.
It has never been studied by graveyard experts or professionals from Oakland Cemetery, like other cemeteries featured in Atlanta Cemeteries Part 1 or Part 2. No ground-penetrating radar. No useless/useful studies from too-expensive historical research firms.
Ownership and How You Can Help (Maybe): Scottdale Mills Cemetery is an anomaly when it comes to abandoned Georgia cemeteries. An operator of several cemeteries recently estimated to History Atlanta there are 1,000 abandoned cemeteries in Georgia, and a majority of them are abandoned because they were connected to defunct churches. Scottdale Mills Cemetery is abandoned because it was connected to a defunct cotton mill.
The grass grows quickly and the ivy creeps fast during the summer in cemeteries. That’s true with Scottdale. My last visit found much of the grass mowed and an older gentleman in his 70’s working on some graves.
To my surprise, I stumbled across probably the only person other than David Scott that seems to care for the cemetery. His name is James Robertson, a retired master sergeant from the Army (email James Robertson if you wish to volunteer at Scottdale Cemetery).
He was raised in Scottdale, the son of mill workers. Many of his deceased family members are buried in the cemetery. Mr. Robertson spends many summer weekends out here, cutting the grass, clearing off the ivy and fighting off mosquitoes.
He admitted taking care of the property was getting tough, for he’s not a young man. Nodding across Scottdale Mills to its neighbor, a large perpetual care cemetery that’s actively growing called Washington Memorial Gardens, Robertson mentioned he didn’t have the resources like them.
But if they don’t share money or manpower, the two cemeteries share mystery.
“You see that group of trees there in Washington,” said Robertson, pointing over into the neighboring cemetery to a forest at the edge of a field of graves. “That’s where the slaves from the plantation were buried.”
Washington Memorial Gardens aka Washington Park Cemetery
First Recorded Burial: Unknown – Before the Civil War?
How Many Burials: Unknown – Thousands?
Location: 23 Cemetery Drive, Decatur, GA 30033
History of the Cemetery & Other Notes: Washington Memorial Gardens, which appears as Washington Park Cemetery on maps and in historical records, is a large perpetual care cemetery. They are always actively burying individuals, unlike the retired Scottdale Cemetery, its neighbor.
Perpetual care cemeteries have trust funds that generate enough interest each year to pay for care and maintenance. According to Jack Frost II, the operator of Washington Memorial Gardens (and Lincoln Cemetery on the westside of Atlanta) perpetual care is the most common business model used for modern cemeteries.
Frost took over operations in the 1980’s from a group of investors that included a senator that purchased Washington Park Cemetery in the late 1970’s. Before that, in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Washington Park Cemetery was owned by an unscrupulous fellow that, according to Frost, operated a shady business. He wouldn’t divulge details (which sucks).
Washington Memorial Gardens started as a perpetual care cemetery in the 1940’s; before that change burial records are not present, according to Frost. He related a large section of the cemetery, including the part pointed out by Mr. Robertson (in the previous post) was from before the change in the 1940’s to perpetual care and outside the domain of the care’s trust.
Frost admitted they really didn’t know what was out there, besides a whole lot of burials. They own the land and care for it, but their business model only allows for maintenance and accommodating new burials.
This section he was talking about, the eastern section of Washington, at some point after the Civil War was a bustling commercial cemetery for recently freed African Americans and their immediate descendants. It was marketed as the “South’s most beautiful cemetery for colored people.”
We are still researching the origins of this commercial cemetery, but it was most likely associated with a black family named Heard that sold burial plots on their land. But the oldest burials at Washington, according to cemetery officials, are of slaves from before the Civil War.
The oldest sections of Washington are in the southwest parts of the cemetery, far away from the area pointed out by Mr. Robertson. These slave graves extend off the cemetery property south, underneath two recently developed condominium units at 2842 and 2847 Jordan Oaks Lane.
You actually park in the condominium’s parking lot, most likely over graves, to access Scottdale Cemetery. If you remove the condos and the parking lot the old slave cemetery would be directly next to Scottdale, which supposedly holds old plantation owners.
According to Washington staff, when the condos were developed just a few years ago two families showed up at separate times to protest that their ancestors were buried on that land. They were furious old slave burial grounds could be disturbed by development.
Cemetery officials couldn’t help. The families moved on to investigating how permits were issued for an area with burials. That’s the last cemetery officials heard about the matter. Such is the fate of so many forgotten cemeteries that just fade into oblivion as descendants move away or pass away.
Ownership and How You Can Help (Maybe): Do you own a ground-penetrating radar machine? Do you have a research budget to study an old slave burial ground? If yes, you can probably help. If no, well…
It’s a perpetual care cemetery, so they are good to go when it comes to care and maintenance. And Washington Memorial Gardens is an active, operating cemetery that does not lack in funds or burials. Unless you are with a university, Ted Turner or the DNR, I think the best thing you could do is pay them a visit… alive.
If you do pay them a visit be sure to check out the Tobie Grant grave. It’s the giant obelisk in the middle of Washington. Grant was a businesswoman, clairvoyant, fortune teller, philanthropist and the daughter of slaves who died in 1968 at the age of 96 as a local celebrity.
Peachtree Baptist Church Cemetery by Ray Keen
First Recorded Burial: About 1880
How Many Burials: About 700
Location: 2108 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329
History of the Cemetery & Other Notes: Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia is miles away from well-known Peachtree Street and gets its name from a market that once stood near the site of the present day church. Founded in 1847, it is the oldest Baptist congregation in Atlanta.
It is located at the intersection of Briarcliff Road and LaVista Road and its historic cemetery is adjacent to the church. In the mid-nineteenth century this intersection was known as the “peachtree bartering station” where farm produce and goods were bartered on Saturdays. The name of the church was derived from this market site.
In 2000 the Peachtree Baptist Church severed its ties with the Southern Baptist Convention and affiliated itself with the Baptist World Alliance. During this change, and in the intervening years, much knowledge of the history of the church and the church cemetery was lost and is only now being collected and reassembled.
Because there are no Civil War graves in the cemetery it almost certainly was established after 1865. The earliest death date I observed on a headstone was 1890, but there were many headstones that were illegible and could be much older.
Although there are doubtless many interesting and influential people interred in this cemetery, because that information is not currently available, this article will focus in on two of the people buried there. Readers of History Atlanta will be familiar with the recent articles published, The Todd Family Homestead and The Todd Family Cemetery.
The Todds were early pioneers in the Atlanta area who settled in what is now the Virginia Highland neighborhood of Atlanta. As the article on the Todd family cemetery relates, the original pioneer family, Richard and Martha Todd, have a memorial headstone that dates from the 1930’s, but nothing above ground exists of their original gravesites (it’s located in the backyard of a Virginia-Highland residence).
They had five or six children (sources vary) and the circumstances involving the burial of John C. Todd, one of their sons, is described in this same article. The only other gravesite that exists from the first two generations of Todds in Atlanta is Patience Elizabeth Todd Armistead who is buried in the Peachtree Baptist Church Cemetery in Atlanta.
Patience Elizabeth Todd married John M. Armistead and died in 1900 at the age of 72. Her headstone is greatly worn away and looks like this today:
The top part of the inscription on her headstone is breaking down, but still legible and reads:
DAU. OF R. C. & M. TODD
WIFE OF J.M. ARMISTEAD
BORN MAY 11, 1828
DIED APRIL 6, 1900
Note that the inscription specifically identifies her as the daughter of R. C. (Richard Copeland) and M. (Martha) Todd. This is likely the oldest existing reference to this very early Atlanta pioneer couple. The epitaph at the bottom, however, is degraded and almost gone. Here is a close-up view:
Her epitaph is a Victorian sentiment composed by John Greenleaf Whittier:
Fold her, O Father in Thine Arms,
And let her henceforth be
A messenger of love between
Our human hearts and Thee.
John Armistead’s headstone was clearer to read:
His inscription reads:
JOHN M. ARMISTEAD
BORN NOV. 16, 1827
DIED MAY 24, 1908
Further let thy grace be given
That we may meet in heaven
Other stories and symbols are scattered throughout the cemetery. James and Alice Greer lost three sons at young ages. One died unnamed in 1900 at birth. Ralph W. also died in 1900 at the age of 14 months. Paul Earl died in 1903 at the age of 12.
All three sons have the same headstone design with a dove symbol relief. The parents, Alice and James Greer, died in their 70s, in 1946 and 1935 respectively.
Lambs are symbolic of a deceased child:
Circular medallions of a new type that I have not seen before mark the graves of Confederate veterans:
The unusual and unexpected:
Ownership and How You Can Help (Maybe): Contact the church. Write a letter to 2108 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329 or give them a call at (404) 634-2463 (as of publication time the church website was down).