Cemetery restoration project gets big boost from history buff

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Pioneer Cemetery Restoration Project recently got a big boost courtesy of long-time history buff Gene Raines of Georgiana. Raines provided a plot of the cemetery to the group.

When the Board of Directors of the Pioneer Cemetery Restoration Project (PCPS) met on October 22, the group knew that Mr. Raines had made a plot of the cemetery along with a list of people buried there and felt there was no need to re-create his work.

“We are most appreciative to Mr. Raines for his work. It would have taken us weeks to accomplish what he has very generously shared with us, ” said Miriam Nixon of the PCPS.

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When Nixon and Claudia Lewis (Logistics Chairs of PCPS) met with Raines, they found out some interesting facts about him. Raines, a former plant accountant, has completed rolls and plots for 62 cemeteries in Butler, Covington, and Conecuh counties since his retirement from Union Camp in April 1999. Pioneer Cemetery is his northernmost cemetery project.

After Raines joined the Butler County Historical Society about 10 years ago, he became interested in plotting cemeteries and gathering information. While plotting, he also made copious notes of information on the markers.

“His work did not stop with compiling information, but often went on to making repairs to graves in numerous cemeteries, including Pioneer,” Nixon said.

“Mr. Raines also spent many hours in courthouses gathering information and to date, he has compiled over 14,000 obituaries.”

Those obituaries helped establish a fact long suspected by many local history buffs: many more people lie buried in Pioneer and other cemeteries than the markers indicate.

“Many markers have deteriorated over time, having been made of perishable materials. For example, Oakwood Cemetery in Georgiana has at least 109 unmarked graves in the old section,” Nixon said.

Raines has been able to identify most of those interred in that cemetery.

Milner Cemetery, located across town, was in a state of disrepair around 1912 because it was originally privately owned.

“Mr. Raines researched and found that a group of people went to the City Council in 1912 and asked the city to maintain the cemetery; the council agreed to do this, but through the years, this promise was forgotten,” Nixon said.

After Mr. Raines found the precedent of the city once agreeing to maintain the cemetery through his research, the town was comfortable in continuing the care.

This is the accomplishment that, perhaps, gives Raines the most satisfaction.

“Now, I am able to go to the cemetery and see flowers placed there. I do the pruning myself, but I am very proud of the way it looks now,” Raines said.

“This is where many of our founding fathers lie buried.”

One of the things Raines said motivated him in his work was his discovery almost all the cemetery censuses for Butler County in the library stopped in the 1960s.

Lewis has already compiled a master list of people buried in Pioneer Cemetery by combing three existing lists, one of them made by her mother, Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1965.

“Now I will be able to combine the work Mr. Raines has done to make one final master list. His list includes information from obituaries and has some information we didn’t already have. It’s been a great help,” Lewis said.

Anne feathers, Chair of the Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association Board of Directors, said the work of the various committees “in all areas.”

“We appreciate all the people who have already expressed an interest in helping with this project,” she said.

“And we will definitely need the support of the entire community.”

Members of the board of directors include Fay Poole, Nonnie Hardin, Judy Taylor, Jill Stallworth, Caroline Gafford, Annabel Markle, Miriam Nixon and Claudia Lewis.