Pre-Civil War cemeteries not forgotten on Fort Rucker
October 3, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 3, 2013) -- Halloween is a common time of the year for people's thoughts to turn to local urban legend sites, and cemeteries are often on the must-visit list, as well, but the cemeteries on post have visitors all year long, dead and living.
Though Fort Rucker does not have any cemeteries under Army control, there are four private cemeteries on the installation.
"Our military installations were established to protect the American people and their way of life," said Chaplain (Col.) Dennis Newton, garrison and U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chaplain. "Part of that is to preserve the remembrance of those whose homes and towns were required in order that adequate training camps could be established.
"This is a great way to honor those who sacrificed their homes and their memories in the providing for the defense bases we use to keep this country secure," he said.
According to cemetery listings, there are four main cemeteries on the installation; however, a formerly documented cemetery is also on the installation, but its location is unknown.
Everyone has access to the sites for maintenance and visitation because, other than mowing, Fort Rucker does not perform cemetery maintenance or operations.
Access is easily acquired to the plots with the exception of Clay Hill Cemetery, which is located near a secure training area.
Each site is steeped in history dating back before the Civil War, and most tombstones predate 1942 when the land was bought by the military to create Camp Rucker.
It is possible that not all the graves have been uncovered, because many of the graves are marked with wooden sticks and stones that can easily be moved or decay over time.
Several cemeteries that were once located in the area were moved in 1950 by the Army and the Holman Funeral Home. Some of the community plots that were moved were Strickland, Haw Ridge, Darian (or Darien) and the Magnolia Church cemeteries, according to a Fort Rucker document.
One of the only cemeteries where it is known that relocated graves were taken is Pleasant Hill Cemetery. More than 100 graves were moved to this site during World War II, but several graves only have funeral home tags marked "Unknown."
According to local historian Val McGee's book, "The Origins of Fort Rucker," around 200 years ago wealthy farmers created the community of Westville, located about two miles west of Lake Tholocco.
The buildings of the town were demolished long ago, and the cemeteries were either moved or forgotten. But it is the descendants of these early settlers who are said to be buried in the cemeteries that still call Fort Rucker and Westville home.
Historical records indicate that the Byrd Family moved into this area around 1820. This Family created the Byrd Cemetery, which is located just north of Lake Tholocco's West Beach. This is the smallest of the four cemeteries, with nine marked and four unmarked graves, according to a survey done by Dale County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Byrd Cemetery is also the site where Alabama Ghost Hunters completed an investigation in the summer of 2010 when reports were made by military personnel that the site had "continuous paranormal activity," with one anonymous Soldier saying he was "attacked by an unseen force."
According to the investigator's findings, the site had high EMF levels and the temperature dropped 40 degrees in five seconds in one specific area.
The report also states that a ghostly apparition appeared near the gate, a few large black masses formed around the graves, and voices and strange lights were witnessed. All of which was caught on video and still photography.
On the other side of cemetery creepiness, Beulah Cemetery is the largest, with 189 identifiable graves. Beulah is also the only cemetery on post that is still used.
It is located in the area where the Old Beulah Primitive Baptist Church stood before it was abandoned on Andrews Avenue, about 0.3 miles inside the Ozark Gate.
"I pass Beulah Cemetery frequently and have observed that there are many flowers and other tokens left, which indicates this location is very important to many in the community," said Newton.
There are several headstones that have veteran markers alongside them from the Civil War-, WWI- and WWII-eras.
The oldest cemetery is Averett, located 200 yards away on a dirt path from Lowe Field Road. It has 65 identifiable gravesites and 47 marked sites. Its earliest marker dates back to 1854.
According to a 1975 article by Meredith Keller in the "Army Flier," the homestead farm was established in 1843 by Philip McCarty and his family after buying several sections of land, which included a large portion of Fort Rucker and Dale County.
Clay Hill is a cemetery soaked in hard times and sorrow, for it was a cemetery for African-Americans in the time of slavery in the area. It is located north of Lake Tholocco near the intersection of Highway 27 and Ravanell Road. It holds 69 identified graves and 15 marked graves, though, according to records, held 17 marked graves in 1960.
The tombstone markers are either old, ornate wooden sticks; large river rocks; or plain, round concrete markers with numbers on them.
Records state that a church once stood nearby, but was abandoned and later destroyed. All that remains of the church today is the cemetery near the Black Mills Range.