Local historical society celebrates 40 years

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

The tables of the fellowship hall at Greenville’s First United Methodist Church were filled on Sunday with an array of delicious dishes courtesy of some of the county’s best cooks.

It wasn’t just another church potluck, however. These were dishes found within the pages of the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society’s BCHGS) new cookbook, &uot;A Taste of Butler County&uot;.

The gala occasion was the 40th anniversary celebration of the local historical society, geared to coincide with the Alabama Historical Association’s Greenville Pilgrimage on Saturday. In spite of the steady drizzle outside, the mood was sunny and pleasant at FUMC as folks in attendance swapped family photos and anecdotes.

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Like a family reunion

Many of those present enjoyed seeing kith and kin that had traveled from a distance to be a part of the day. &uot;It’s just been so wonderful to see all these people I am kin to – why, it’s like a family reunion,&uot; exclaimed ‘Miss’ Freddie Perdue.

Doris Dearden, a &uot;local girl&uot; who now lives in Wisconsin, traveled to Greenville just to be a part of the historic weekend.

&uot;We think Doris is related to more people buried in Pioneer Cemetery than anybody else we know about,&uot; quipped BCHGS President Barbara Middleton.

A bounty of food and history

Attendees were offered &uot;a gracious plenty&uot;, as southern folks like to say, and visitors from as far away as Utah, Wisconsin and the Carolinas were on hand to enjoy this bountiful meal.

There were also displays of vintage photos of county homes and businesses for attendees to enjoy, along with clippings of articles detailing historical aspects of the area, courtesy of the local newspaper.

BCHGS President, who provided lovely local camellias to grace each table for the meal, encouraged visitors to come back to Greenville during the &uot;high season&uot; for camellias so they can enjoy following the updated &uot;Camellia Driving Trail&uot; brochure.

Honoring great volunteers

Displays of the new cookbook also captured luncheon guests’ attention, and books, bought by the armloads in some cases, went home with several guests to be shared with friends and family.

Middleton recognized several of the long-time BCHGS volunteers for their contributions to the society. &uot;While we have over 400 members in our local historical society, many of those are people who live far away. So we have depended over the years on a small band of truly dedicated volunteers to carry on our research and preservation efforts here,&uot; explained Middleton.

Judy Taylor, Lena Harrison, Bill Vickery, Lucille Reeves, Olga Morton, Willie Mae Robinson, Dr. Michael Daniel, Opal Scott, Betty Thomas, Annie Crenshaw and Herbert Morton were all honored for their contributions to the BCHGS.

‘From all walks of life’

Due to the inclement weather, BCHGS Historian and Quarterly Editor Judy Taylor was unable to give her planned narrative walking tour of historic Pioneer Cemetery. However, the avid historian was able to share interesting, amusing and poignant insights into the story behind the Camellia City’s oldest cemetery.

&uot;In the early 1820s, two acres were set aside for a burying ground located on the western side of the city limits…you can imagine how small the city was in those days. The first church built in Greenville once occupied those grounds,&uot; Taylor explained.

Though the original church has long since disappeared, the cemetery remains, its elaborate marble memorials mingling with small, faded markers of early Butler County settlers. In some cases, the porous materials used – all that was available at the time – are so badly worn, names and dates have been obscured over time.

Pioneer Cemetery, Taylor said, &uot;has more ways of marking graves than any other cemetery in this county,&uot; offering everything from seashell-covered mounds to a local inventor’s patented cast-iron grave covers, &uot;some very ornate.&uot;

The cemetery’s original wooden picket fence disintegrated over time, later to be replaced with barbed wire and privet hedges. In the 1920s, the Father Ryan Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money to build a new iron fence &uot;and that fence stood unharmed for eighty years – until Ivan came to call. Now it’s got a definite lean in places,&uot; Taylor quipped.

The local historical society erected a marker at the cemetery in 1967, and in 1976 Pioneer Cemetery was added to the Alabama Register of Historic Places.

&uot;The earliest burial confirmed at Pioneer is James Dunklin in 1827…and the last burial was Lily Black Stanley in 1961. There will be no more burials at the cemetery as we are told there is no more room,&uot; Taylor explained.

People from all walks of life – city fathers and Confederate soldiers, merchants, doctors, lawyers, farmers, ministers and housewives -&uot;even an Indian chief and his wife who befriended early settlers&uot; – can be found resting within Pioneer Cemetery.

&uot;You will note many graves are unmarked when you visit the cemetery. Some names we have discovered – some we will probably never know.

Perhaps the most touching sight for me is how terribly many tiny graves can be found there, harking back to the days when the infant mortality rate was so high,&uot; remarked Taylor.

Taylor encouraged those present to consider donating to the cemetery fund established by Walt Parmer to maintain and preserve historic Pioneer Cemetery.

&uot;I also want to say we are working on a new book detailing the cemeteries in Butler County…I can’t say when it will be ready, but it’s underway,&uot; Taylor said.

Following Taylor’s talk, attendees were invited to drive the short distance over the Garry and Ramona Martin’s Civil War era home to enjoy lemonade and hear about the couple’s fascinating discoveries within its walls.

"It's been an exhausting, but wonderful, weekendŠwe are so delighted with how everything went. We thank everyone for the great food and all the work they did to make this weekend a success," said Middleton.