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THURSDAY, JULY 19, 2007
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Sherrie Breckon saved this old family plot next to U.S. 72 in eastern Limestone County from a bulldozer.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Sherrie Breckon saved this old family plot next to U.S. 72 in eastern Limestone County from a bulldozer.

SAVING FAMILY PLOTS FROM PROGRESS, EROSION AND CHILDREN
Limestone’s guardian of the dead
Woman is serious about protecting final resting places

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com · 340-2445

CAPSHAW — The living are threatening the dead in Limestone County.

For 165 years, Willis M. Donaldson’s remains have resided in a family plot in eastern Limestone County, a lichen-covered stone lying guard on top of the grave.

Erosion and progress are invading his final resting place.

Ants crawl over the barely visible etchings that denote his name, birth and death and the star-type designs carved in each corner. A rotten tree stump borders one side of his grave, and the grave of Lucey Byrde, born in 1793 and buried in 1857, borders the other side.

A short plastic white fence encases the family plot, protecting it from a steep embankment on U.S. 72 that is littered with a vehicle bumper, fast food wrappers and beer bottles. The fence also protects the plot from bulldozers and a pit of red mud.

Sherrie Breckon is working to save this plot of four graves from the bulldozers.

She is the Limestone County representative for the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit statewide organization of volunteers who restore and protect cemeteries.

Since early adulthood, Breckon said, she has felt compelled to photograph tombstones.

“I’ve always been drawn to the artwork of them,” she said. “I’ve wondered about the stories of those who came before us.”

That led her to volunteer with the alliance. The family plot on U.S. 72 is her first restoration project.

“I drove by and saw the bulldozers one day and thought, ‘I’ve got to do something,’ ” Breckon said.

The alliance president suggested she mark off 50 to 75 feet beyond the graves and designate it as historic property. It is across from Limestone Flea Market and next to First South Farm Credit.

Breckon marked the area with stakes, and citizens who saw the work helped. Darlene Stone bought the fence and erected it, and All Care Landscaping is keeping the weeds cut.

Breckon tacked a sign to a tree near the graves that explains the cemetery is under protection by the alliance.

“Graves that are 75 years or older cannot be destroyed without a permit from the Alabama Historical Commission,” Breckon said.

She said demand for land will increase as Limestone County grows, which can threaten smaller cemeteries and family plots that have been forgotten and neglected.

The Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce is predicting a population of more than 86,000 by 2012. There are 73,000-plus residents now.

Breckon said after she started work on the U.S. 72 plot, she received a call about the Murphey Cemetery in Elkmont, threatened by bulldozers and children.

A residential development is under construction near the family plot. Breckon said the plot appears to have eight graves but only three legible headstones. One grave dates to 1840 and is for a 1-year-old girl named Martha J. Murphey.

The original stone for Sgt. James J. Bradshaw, a Confederate veteran buried there in 1896, was destroyed about 20 years ago when children used it as a bicycle ramp.

Although he has a new stone, the exact location of Bradshaw’s grave in unknown.

Breckon said restoring and protecting cemeteries and family plots –– Limestone has 200 that she knows of –– not only has historical significance for the community, but also significance for families who want to do genealogical research.

“I believe the dead shouldn’t be forgotten,” Breckon said. “Our county is growing, but it shouldn’t develop over the final resting places of those who came before us.”

Ancestral burials

Did you know:

  • That any burial site that is 75 years old or older cannot be disturbed without permission from the Alabama Historical Commission?

  • That a state law passed this year gives the public access to cemeteries and family plots on private property
  • Family members of the deceased, or anyone engaged in research, can visit a site after giving the property owner reasonable notice.

  • Anyone who knows of a cemetery or family plot in need of protection or restoration can contact the Alabama Preservation Cemetery Alliance through its Web site at www.alabama-cemetery-preservation.com or by mail at P.O. Box 3932, Montgomery, AL 36109-0932. In Limestone County, contact Sherrie Breckon through her Web site at gravetracker.com.

    Holly Hollman

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