Tracing Powder Springs' Lineage One Grave at a Time
Once Loren Baker's family tree contained 1,000 names, he turned his attention to the ancestry of the city—perhaps best researched through the its cemeteries.
Dents in front of tombstones like this usually mean a body is six feet below, but Jonathan P. Lindley isn’t buried here.
As Loren Baker approaches Lindley’s grave in the Powder Springs Methodist cemetery, he begins to—seemingly out of instinct—tell the tale of Lindley’s death.
The member of the Confederacy was captured in Mississippi and died in Ohio while being in a Union prison camp for two months. His corpse, Baker explains, was buried with four or five others outside the camp only to be dug up by grave robbers.
“They did an investigation and found out the bodies went to a Cleveland medical clinic,” he tells me. “Some doctor had wanted to do a study on bodies, and he sent them out to get them. … He chose the Confederates because they weren’t worth anything” in the North.
Lindley’s gravestone was placed in the cemetery off Old Austell Road by the American Legion.
But it’s not just the history of deceased veterans Baker knows—the 40-year Powder Springs resident recites the back-story of almost every grave he and I come across as we stroll through the Methodist and Baptist cemeteries.
Baker, a 75-year-old retired photographer, researches Powder Springs’ deceased citizens and inserts his findings into websites like FindAGrave.com and Ancestory.com. Sometimes he starts someone’s online obit information; sometimes he adds; sometimes he corrects.
You can only tell so much by someone’s grave, though, which is why he scours the Internet looking for any and every clue, hoping to find an interesting fact or missing branch from a family tree.
“This is a game, really,” he says. “You don’t wanna cheat—you want this to be accurate.” But, he admits, educated guessing is sometimes necessary since most of those who knew the answers have passed on.
A native New Yorker, Baker became interested in grave researching about three years ago when he started to build his own family tree. Once the tree contained 1,000 members and dated back to 1075, he turned his attention to the lineages of Powder Springs—perhaps best researched through the city’s cemeteries.
He knows the history behind the cemeteries themselves, too (scroll to the bottom for briefs he’s written about the city's major graveyards).
The history—early settlers, locally known last names, veterans—that’s what really draws Baker to grave researching.
First Stop: The Baptist Cemetery
On this overcast morning in downtown Powder Springs, we step out of our cars behind City Hall and walk up the slope of the Powder Springs Baptist cemetery.
The graveyard is haphazard. There isn’t really any uniformity to the graves, the rows, or the stone walls that section off families.
It’s a result of time, Baker says. Gravestones have been moved or replaced, and newer sections to the graveyard have been added. The cemetery would have looked more flush 100 years ago, he explains.
The cemetery dates back to the mid-1800s and is the site of the original First Baptist Church of Powder Springs, known back then as Springville Baptist Church of Christ or the Missionary Baptist Church.
Our feet are treading over the remains of some the city’s founders, who ventured to Powder Springs via the land lottery in the 1830s.
“They didn’t plant the people like they do today,” he explains. “They put them in the ground and said, ‘Well, we’re not going to dig into this guy,’ so they moved five feet over and it was safe.
"Now today, they go around with their meters and can tell where that person is, and they can dig within a foot.”
As we walk around, he spots an irregularity: A man who fought in the War of 1812. He must have moved here later on in life, Baker says, because most of the war’s veterans are buried further east and Powder Springs wasn’t settled until the 1830s.
And over here, this Civil War veteran might also have come to the city in his later years because his tombstone says he’s part of the 63rd Georgia Infantry, organized in Savannah. In Powder Springs, Baker says, you’ll see mostly the 1st, 2nd and 7th Georgia infantries.
“These people got together in each one of these little towns around here and they went off to war thinking the thing would all be over in a couple months,” he describes. “It was just a little fun, you know, hell raising.”
Flowers sit in pots beside some of the newer graves (the last burial was in 2002), and the grass is cut thanks to the city. Sometimes, Baker says, the American Legion will put flags on the graves of veterans.
But overall, there aren’t many signs that show people care. The cemetery is visibly decaying, and it’s because the descendents of the buried are four or five generations down the line, he explains.
“Over in East Cobb, they do have a lot of cemetery general upkeep,” he says. “The problem here is: Your stone falls over, the family puts it upright—nobody else does this. And it’s broken, they repair it. But there’s nobody here today to do this.
“It’s deteriorated so much. It’s only going to get worse if they let it do that.”
Onward to the Methodist Cemetery
There are many, many more graves at this cemetery than at the Baptist. The stones here aren’t uniform, but they appear to be in better shape than the other cemetery.
This cemetery is often confused with the three others in close proximity, Baker says. On the same side of the road is the Church of God of Prophecy cemetery.
Across the street is the Powder Springs City Cemetery, which first branched off of the Methodist cemetery in 1917. Bordering the City Cemetery is Powder Springs Memorial Gardens, established in 1972.
The oldest grave in the Methodist cemetery is hardly legible, but Baker says that when he comes early in the morning, the sun shines just right to where he can read it: James McEachern, born 1778, died 1847.
Buried here are lots of McEacherns, the well-known local family for which the high school is named.
A little known fact about the cemetery is black Americans are laid to rest here, Baker explains. “People don’t realize that … there were a lot of black people who bought themselves out of slavery or they were born from a free family.”
He shows me that original headstones can be wrong. He points to a veteran’s grave where the American Legion set a new stone. It says the man died in 1881 instead of 20 years earlier like the original stone says.
“Whoever did (the new stone) went through the military records and corrected it,” he explains.
Families paid for tombstones to be engraved, Baker says, and there could be a miscommunication about what dates should be put on it. Replacement stones can be wrong, too, because the original is illegible and the person replacing it merely guesses, he adds.
Baker takes pleasure in correcting such pieces of information for historical records online, and if there isn’t any information at all, he’s happy to make additions. His Find A Grave profile is proof of that—it says he’s added 5,338 memorials to the site.
“I think it’s age here—history,” he says. “You’ve got the war veterans. You’ve got the early pioneers. Just general people that lived in the town and made a living in the town."
About the cemeteries:
Powder Springs Baptist Cemetery
The first Missionary Baptist Church (first known as Springville Baptist Church of Christ) building stood on the edge of the old Baptist cemetery on a hill just off Lost Mountain Road. It stood about 200 yards from the center of Powder Springs.
The date would have been sometime in the late 1840s. It stood on this site until late 1864, when the the church was destroyed and the lumber hauled off by Union soldiers. A new church was then built in 1877 on its present site on Marietta Street.
In 1906, the church changed its name to the First Baptist Church of Powder Springs. In 1914, the church was rebuilt much like it appears today, except for additions and an additional building.
Today you will find the cemetery behind City Hall on Jackson Way and across from the old police station. The city maintains the care of the cemetery. There are more than 100 markers missing, broken or just not readable. Some of the earliest Powder Springs founders are here.
Powder Springs Methodist Cemetery
The church was established around 1838, soon after the town was incorporated as Springville and kept that name until 1859 when the town name was change to Powder Springs.
The first church was a log cabin constructed on the south side of the cemetery in what some people refer to today as "the old cemetery." In 1844, the church was officially organized and a framed building was constructed.
This framed building stood until 1864 when Federal troops tore it down and hauled off the lumber to make winter quarters for themselves.
In 1872, a new building was constructed on its present location on Marietta Street. The land for the the church was given by Elisha Lindley.
Today the cemetery is located about a mile southeast of the historic downtown on the east side of Old Austell Road. It can get rather confusing to visitors because it's one of four cemeteries that border one another. There are no signs, adding to the confusion.
Some of the earliest settlers of Powder Springs are buried here, along with about 70 Confederate soldiers.
Powder Springs City Cemetery
The cemetery was first established in 1917 as part of the Methodist cemetery. Today it's known as the Powder Springs City Cemetery and can be found about a mile southeast of the historical downtown on the west side of Old Austell Road, one of four cemeteries located in the area—Powder Springs Methodist and Church of God of Prophecy on the east side of Old Austell Road and Powder Springs Memorial Gardens on the southwest side behind the City Cemetery.
To visitors, this can be very confusing as there are no signs. The city is active in the maintenance and care.
Powder Springs Memorial Gardens
The cemetery was established in 1972 and is the newest of the four cemeteries located in the area. The main entrance is on Atlanta Street, about three-fourths of a mile from the historic downtown.
There is another entrance in the southwest corner of the Powder Springs City Cemetery on the west side of Old Austell Road. Most of the markers are bronze or flush with the ground varieties, although there is a small section of standing monuments.