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Historic Sylvester Cemetery

Originally published by Turned Georgian

For some reason I’d never explored the old cemetery right here in my neighborhood. Sometimes it takes a serendipitous opportunity, unplanned, for the best explorations to occur and so, a few weekends back when Viv, B, and I, worn out and hot from our hike up Stone Mountain and full (oh SO full) from our repast at Community Q in Decatur, we weren’t quite ready to end the days adventures and found ourselves at the cemetery. Of course we ended up parking right at our friends N and LL’s house so we had to pay a visit to their window-cat.

Back to the cemetery.

Turns out this place was older than i imagined. I’d recently learned it was the “Historic Sylvester Cemetery” but i was stumped, a historic cemetery on edges of East Atlanta? nestled in the crook of I-20, in the heart of a 1940s-at-the-earliest section of the district. There was no historic church nearby that i knew of either. Clearly, whatever history surrounded this cemetery, and there had to be some since the graves we saw took us back to the late 1800s, had pretty much disappeared. I am no historian on East Atlanta, but the commercial center wasn’t established until around 1910 with the advent of the Flat Shoals streetcar, a branch off the Edgewood Ave streetcar line that was responsible for the Inman Park subdivision, this explains the circa 1906/1910 Zuber-Jarrell House, a big old Neoclassical house about a mile further down Flat Shoals. So what was the story? All these children’s graves from the 1910s-30s, delicate and intricate marble headstones that were no paupers graves, family plots, and then, a very handmade concrete topper on one.

Turns out much of the history around there has indeed been erased. I-20 lies over Thomas Simmons farm who was granted that parcel of land in DeKalb county. He ran a mill on the Sugar Creek which supplied early Atlanta with lumber. His wife is likely the first burial in Sylvester but the first marked grave (which i’ll have to go back and find) is of a baby a year or so after Mrs. Simmons died, the 1 year old daughter of Nancy Terry and “Spanish Jim” Brown who are considered the first settlers of East Atlanta, but i don’t know how they figure that. However, it was yet another couple, the Terrys who had a son named Sylvester who died 1872 at age 16. In 1873 Mrs. Terry leased part of her land to a church group (Methodist Episcopal Church-South) but asked they name the church for Sylvester and so we have a name. Henceforth other churches seem to have taken over, one acre grew to several and the rest, well, you can read about here.

I highly recommend a visit to this forested hillside in East Atlanta. The ambience is incredible although i’m sure it wasn’t always nor intended to be so. Trees, some large but many small, grow among the graves, upsetting monuments and who knows what else, and, though poison ivy creeps among the pinestraw don’t let that dissuade you.

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