The tree in the grave finally fell

February 18th, 2020     Featured History

For the past year or so people have been noticing and commenting on a fairly large tree growing out of one of the apparently oldest graves in the New Albany city cemetery a short distance east of Watson Grove Church.

More recently, the tree has been leaning at a precarious angle and this past Thursday it finally fell, taking a smaller tree in the same plot with it and damaging nearby grave markers.

It’s not clear whose responsibility moving the tree is.

The name of those buried in the plot is Rogers, although the worn grave covers are somewhat difficult to read. The brick vault where the tree has grown has the name and information Ada V. wife of Dr. M. F. Rogers, born June 22, 1852, died May 18, 1936.

The vault, built at some expense, is severely damaged and one can easily see down into the grave. The grave does not appear to contain a coffin, although that may be misleading due to the age, and an additional marker indicates an infant son, Carl, may have been interred there as well.

Dr. Rogers, born Jan. 26, 1852 and died Dec. 17, 1909, was buried just to the north of his wife and other family members are in the plot.

So, at least one of the graves is more than a century old and the Rogers families who live here now may or may not be related to them.

The tree in the grave, which has been growing there for many years, may be somewhat symbolic of problems relating to the cemetery.

Although it’s called the city cemetery, the city owns no part of it. About $40,000 a year has been budgeted for maintaining the cemetery, but that has, in a sense, only been out of the goodness of city officials’ hearts.

So it is not clear who does own the cemetery or even who owns parts of it.

To make matters more confusing, no one seems to have a complete, much less accurate, map of the more than 20 acres. A partial map of the newer section near the intersection of Bankhead and Hwy. 15 exists but it only covers a small section of the entire cemetery and is accompanied by no records to back it up.

Some families who have plots purchased from the Wilbanks family have deeds, but many others do not, or perhaps do not know how to find them.

There have been rumors of bodies buried in the wrong plot and even attempts to bury someone only to discover the space is already occupied, although these have not been verified.

A suggestion has been made to require the families who have plots there to be responsible for maintaining the cemetery, as is done at smaller church and family cemeteries throughout the county. But enforcing that would be difficult if not impossible, and would more or less be voluntary. That would bring up the question of whether the city would still maintain spaces where the family does not do so, or even no longer exists.

A survey of the cemetery was done approximately in the 1980s and actually printed (some copies of the volume are still available according to library director Sissy Bullock) but it only listed names and dates and now, at best, is 40 years out of date.

Bullock is trying to obtain a grant to do a new cemetery survey that would include grave marker information, family groupings and GPS location for mapping purposes.

This would be a huge task in terms of time, but would clear up most location problems, provide information about unused space, and provide a database that would be valuable for government officials as well as family members and genealogists.

If those efforts are successful, the project could extend to other cemeteries.

In the meantime, city officials will continue to maintain the cemetery and hope that some volunteer help will be available to perform extra tasks such as clearing bushes crowding the grave of New Albany founder Moses Collins and other historical areas.

The falling trees damaged markers at neighboring gravesite as well.

Another view of the damaged area

Founder Moses Collins’ gravesite is partially obscured by bushes.

From the Community

Hazel Maxine Hunter says:

Lynn, I enjoyed this story and pictures, and the name M. F. Rogers seemed vaguely familiar, so I looked and found him in the 1989 Union County History Book on pages 378-79. He was originally from Ripley, but practiced medicine in NA during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. He was the only doctor in New Albany and also opened a drug store. He married and had one child, Miss Daisy Rogers, who I think you’ll reminder. She never married so there would be no direct descendants. The article is reprinted from the Gazette 1971, and there is a picture included.

Marvin Horton says:

If there is a point of contact for this cemetery I would be interested in contacting them. I restore headstones and maintain gravesites and may be able to help from time to time.

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