Village Reflections: It all started in Clarkesville

A monthly column published in The Northeast Georgian

I wake up curious every day. 
But I’m often weary after late-night scrolling down rabbit holes chasing digital clues about local history. 
Over the past few years, my informal research has centered on the Old Clarkesville Cemetery. 
There are fascinating stories buried there. 
I serve on the volunteer board of directors that comprises Historic Clarkesville Cemetery Preservation, Inc.; we aim to help the community understand the significance of this beloved landmark. 
Donated in 1831 by Methodist Col. James Brannon, the lot was the site of the first worship space in the young village of Clarkesville, established as the county seat of Habersham County. 
The original deed to the cemetery parcel is clear. The property was to be the site of a chapel for use by the Methodists and shared by other Christian denominations.
This donation of land inspired early residents to lend a hand toward the erection of a community worship space. 
According to history passed down from Clarkesville First United Methodist Church:
The lovely church once stood amid the majestic oaks. The walls of the building were white, while the woodwork and old-fashioned benches were in plain drab coloring. A gallery ran along three sides of the church, with one aisle down the center to the pulpit. The two rows of windows gave light during the day, and the building was lighted by candles at night which were borrowed from house to house. 
After the chapel was moved and later torn down, burial customs shifted with the addition of new churches and a municipal cemetery. 
In 1927, resident Annie Sutton penned a column in the Tri-County Advertiser, Old Mortality. It seemed there was renewed interest in the neglected cemetery. 
Miss Sutton implored the community to ensure the preservation of the native trees and to honor those who sleep beneath the shade:
“And those quaint inscriptions, you do not find them in the cemeteries of the present! All surrounded by those magnificent white pines and spruce trees by those old people, leaving with us not only their names but those trees, emblems of their labor, love and thought for the future that has grown for over 100 years. May they be found there another 100 years!”
Beyond this sacred space lies the Clarkesville square and its main arteries. When the village was chartered in1823, local leaders laid out a gridiron Sparta street plan with a central town square. 
Washington, Jefferson and Madison streets run east and west. Side streets run north and south. 
The lots, numbered 1-42, were owned by individuals whose names are familiar to those of us who know local history. 
Deas.
Erwin
Wyly. 
McMillan. 
West.
Nichols.
So many names. So many stories. 
Many of the names on the plat match etched inscriptions at the cemetery but also connect to the history of our state and nation. 
Just like in Annie Sutton’s day, the good people of my community newspaper are allowing me to share stories from the past to spark a collaborative conversation again. 
Next year Clarkesville will celebrate 200 years. What better time to start? 
In the words of Miss Sutton, “I find I have started a wave of memories all over the upper part of the county, which promises to give us at least a practical history of unwritten events of Clarkesville and Habersham County.”
While it’s my byline on this page, the information shared is made possible by a few key individuals who are also wild about the past – Ivy Hall, Virginia Gorday and Brooks Garcia. I am greatly indebted to them for supporting this project. 
I’ll be back next month with the next installment of Village Reflections. We’ll see where the late-night scrolling leads me. 
E. Lane Gresham is a writer, photographer and community lover. She serves as the chair of the Historic Clarkesville Cemetery Preservation, Inc. Board of Directors and as the Director of Communications and Media at Tallulah Falls School. She can be reached at elanegresham@gmail.com. 

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