County’s oldest cemetery in need

Published 3:36 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

Weeds sprouting through broken slabs and fractured concrete. Rusty fences leaning to and fro.

The final resting place for many of Butler County’s earliest citizens is in need of help.

The newly formed Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association is looking for some guardian angels willing to step up and join in a an effort to restore the old cemetery, located just one block from City Hall. Committee members include Anne Feathers, Fay Poole, Marian Nixon, Annabel Markle, Caroline Gafford, Nonnie Hardin, Judy Taylor, Jill Stallworth and Claudia Lewis.

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“We know there is concern and interest out there regarding Pioneer Cemetery, and a group of us decided to get the ball rolling,” said Feathers. “Greenville is such a wonderful small town, and many of us believe our founding families deserve a special resting place. The setting at Pioneer is absolutely beautiful, but it certainly needs work toward restoration.”

According to Miriam Nixon, another PCPA member, the cemetery has “great possibilities with its prominent location.”

“It’s right across from First United Methodist Church and within easy walking distance of beautiful old churches in our town, including Saint Thomas Episcopal, First Presbyterian and Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church, all founded in the 19th century,” Nixon said.

Those buried in the historic cemetery include Captain William Butler, the Virginia native and pioneer settler for whom the county is named. Walter O. Parmer, for whom the city’s elementary school is named, is also buried there. Names inscribed in the cemetery include other pioneer families: Dunklin, Harrison, Bolling, Herbert, Mallet, Burnett, Calhoun, Wright, Adams, Brown, Bowen, Deming, Waters, Taylor, Gafford, Oliver, Watson, Gafford, Oliver, Thagard, Hartley, Campbell, Harris, Payne, Porter, Wilson and others.

Some of the graves go back nearly two centuries.

The PCPA knew a master plan was needed to make their vision – the restoration and preservation of Pioneer Cemetery – a reality.

“We want to create a beautiful heritage park of which the town is proud, something that will truly add to our city’s landscape,” Feathers said.

“This is a project that will involve the entire town since it will also be a benefit to the entire town.”

The group has met with Lee Anne Wofford, cemetery program coordinator for the Alabama Historical Commission, and Phyllis Armstrong of the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance, to get comments and suggestions on the best ways the project can be undertaken.

“They showed us a few things we can do now, like repair of the brickwork supporting tabletop slabs, clearing and fence repair,” Feathers said.

Other needs, such as repair of tombstones and replanting will require further advice and guidance from professional preservationists and landscaping experts.

One thing is certain: it will take commitment in terms of labor, materials and money. The PCPA is reaching out to those with ties to the cemetery and community for assistance.

“We have met with Walter Parmer, who is the descendant of Walter O. Parmer,” Feathers said. “It was W.O. Parmer who endowed scholarships for Greenville students in the 1930s. Since then, over 400 ‘Parmer Scholars’ have benefited from his largesse. And Mr. Parmer wants to mobilize these men to provide funds for the cemetery that is the final resting place of their benefactor.”

The first phase of their master plan will be to send out a letter to the Parmer Scholars, along with identified descendants of those buried in Pioneer Cemetery and local residents who might be interested in the improvement of the cemetery. City resources will also be requested.

The PCPA plans to later divide the cemetery into grids and assign them to groups such as garden clubs and civic organizations, though nothing has yet been formalized.

“Our goal is to have the steps in place for the physical restoration and workers recruited (paid and volunteer) to start work by May 2009,” Feathers said.

The association welcomes anyone interested in joining in the work to contact them. For further information about the work of the Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association, please contact Anne Feathers at 382-0229, Jill Stallworth at 382-9597 or Fay Poole at 382-7800.