Identification of unmarked graves sought at Bethel
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Jun 09, 2013 | 776 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bethel Baptist Church Cementary
Bethel Baptist Church at 2514 Old Chattanooga Pike S.W. is among the many small rural churches in Bradley County with cemeteries. Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
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There are more than 100 cemeteries in Bradley County, including the three corporately owned perpetual care and publicly owned Fort Hill Cemetery. Some are private, but most are entrusted to small rural churches.

The Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery at 2514 Old Chattanooga Pike S.W. is one of the rural cemeteries owned by church trustees and maintained by volunteer labor.

The cemetery committee is asking relatives, family members or friends of people buried in the graveyard to attend a meeting June 29, between noon and 4 p.m., at the church.

The purpose of the meeting is to identify unmarked or unknown gravesites as well as so-called “marked reserved” burial plots.

“I have a list of 355 to 360 names that are documented and I have several that are undocumented — in unknown graves. We’re hoping to find some friends or relatives to help us in that regard,” he said.

“This meeting is important for past, present and future burials in the cemetery,” Lee said.

The church began in 1915, but the cemetery was begun much earlier.

“It was donated by a Mr. Potts. He started it as a community cemetery and then donated to Bethel Baptist,” said church deacon Dennis Lee. “There were some graves here before the church was established.”

Lee, 58, was recently elected to lead the cemetery committee, which in a small church, is probably a lifetime appointment.

He and two other volunteers rotate maintenance responsibilities on a weekly basis. They try to mow it every week to 10 days except in the spring when dandelions bloom, when dark green grass contrasts a burst of bright yellow flower heads among gray marble and granite stones.

“It’s maintained on a volunteer basis. At one time we did have a caretaker, but at his passing, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to maintain it on a voluntary basis due to expenses,” he said.

The caretaker, Tommy Rogers, 87, died April 11, 2013. According to his obituary, “He was a devoted Christian and was a member of Bethel Baptist Church, where he taught the adult Sunday School class, sang in the choir, and maintained the cemetery for many years.”

He was not buried in the cemetery he maintained for so many years, but donated his body to science. His wife asked that donations be made to the cemetery fund in lieu of flowers.

In addition to mowing and identifying unmarked graves, they also maintain plots since headstones tend to settle and sink.

“We maintain them in that regard. We try to keep them erect and maintain them properly,” he said. “We try to keep them clean of mold and mildew.”

Lee has no family buried in Bethel Baptist Cemetery, but he does have friends. He and the volunteers intend to continue doing their best to their best to give them a nice, quiet resting place where their loved ones can reflect in peace.

Like it is at many of the other small rural church cemeteries, voices singing traditional church hymns cover the cemetery every Sunday during the 11 a.m. worship service.

“It’s a nice and peaceful place to reflect,” Lee said.