Community Voices: Living and dead help each other in local cemeteries

Marty Farrell resides in Cumming and may be reached at

For historians and history buffs around metro Atlanta, old family and church cemeteries are a treasure trove of local history and heritage.

That’s one reason why the Forsyth County Historical Society works so hard to preserve, maintain and study the approximately 100 such cemeteries spread throughout the county.

Getting particular attention is the Jacob Scudder family burial plot dating back to the 1830s. Scudder, born in 1788 a year before the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, was one of the first white settlers in the area. He was a man of considerable means as owner of saw and grist mils, a trading post, a licensed Indian agent, as well as a Georgia state senator. The cemetery, where he and his wife Diana are buried is located inside what is now a residential subdivision. It is also the final resting place for 40 or 50 other individuals including Cherokee Indians, several free blacks, and two Civil War veterans - a combination which in that era was unusual.

Rumors persisted for generations about how old Jacob Scudder was buried with a fortune in gold. So, in the 1970s a couple of grave robbers showed up one night with a backhoe, dug the place up, scattering headstones and footstones in a fruitless search for gold. The hallowed ground lay in ruins until 2011 when the Historical Society, under the leadership of Jimmy and Martha McConnell, George Pirkle, John Salter and Myra Ready, teamed up with Boy Scout troop 207.

They put the pieces of broken granite markers and Italian marble coffins back together and in the right locations. It was hard, manual labor since Diana’s Chapel Cemetery (as it’s known) is now inaccessible to heavy equipment.

Boy Scout Bradley Graham of Cumming Troop 207 conceived the restoration idea for his Eagle Scout project. For eight months in 2010 he began planning for restoring the vandalized cemetery, but before he could present his plan to the Etowah Scout Council the aspiring Eagle Scout died in a tragic hunting accident.

Stunned, the troop took on the project as a tribute to Bradley whom they all recognized as a most dedicated member. So the following spring, Troop 207, the Bradley family, and the county historical society joined forces to begin work on the Scudder cemetery and have worked together on that and other cemetery projects ever since.

The information gleaned from cemeteries is crucial: revealing how long people lived, infant and child mortality rates, size of families, disease and epidemics and the terrible cost of war.

In recent months there have been other instances of senseless damage at seven old cemeteries in Forsyth County. It has become a growing concern to historians, families, and law enforcement. It’s a pity, as the work here has proven valuable in bringing together young and old, living and dead, past with the present and fosters an appreciation of local history.