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Post cemetery tour channels area's past
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Margaret Ruiz of Richmond Hill reads the tombstones of people buried in the Liberty Chapel Cemetery on Fort Stewart Monday. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
Liberty County Commissioner Donald Lovette, along with his mother Louise Lovette, and his aunts, Clara Roberts and Arlie Brown, were among 50 visitors who paid homage Monday to those buried on Fort Stewart’s reservation.
“We like being out here and comparing stories,” Lovette said. “It’s become a real fellowship over the years.”
Fort Stewart offers cemetery tours each spring and fall so descendents of people interred in more than 60 cemeteries on the reservation can trace their roots. These excursions also give folks an opportunity to learn about the area’s local history.
Lovette said when his mother and aunts were little girls their family lived in Taylors Creek, one of many communities that once existed on what is now the military reservation. The Lovette family and others who lived in these tiny towns left the area in 1941 when the federal government bought 279,720 acres of land to establish Camp Stewart.
Visitors were transported by bus to Bragg, Dreggars, Waters, Liberty Chapel and Cox cemeteries for this year’s fall tour.
Brian Greer, Fort Stewart’s cultural resource program manager, unveiled a new historical marker at Bragg Cemetery at the start of the tour.
“My first job when I came to Fort Stewart in 1997 was to inventory the cemeteries on the reservation,” Greer said. He added there are 3,500 recorded archeological sites on post. No small feat considering Fort Stewart is the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River.
Greer stressed that before any land on the reservation is to be disturbed for timber harvest or other projects he and his team must first survey the area in keeping with the National Historic Preservation Act.
The post archeologist explained the numerous communities that thrived on the reservation did not exist all at once, but appeared and disappeared over time. Greer said one prehistoric Native American site on Fort Stewart dates back 9,000 years. And when the Europeans came to settle they had an even greater impact on the area, he said.
Greer said Fort Argyle, established by colonists in 1734 as an outlying post to protect the new settlement of Savannah, was present in the reservation area for about 40 years.
“There was an old brick factory near the old fort’s original location,” he said. “It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.”
Greer offered historic information to those who participated in the tour, and in turn, some of those on the tour shared information about their ancestors with him.
“About 30-40 percent of the cemeteries on post are family cemeteries,” he told one woman.
“There was a stagecoach trail from Claxton to Poplar Head that ran on Old Walthourville Road (Highway 32),” Wayne Golden of Smiley Crossroads told Greer. Golden said he once knew where the stagecoach would have watered its horses.
Some of the regulars on the tour are members of the Fort Stewart Cemetery Council. The council was formed in 1993 to inform the public about the cemeteries. The organization supports the Army’s preservation of grave sites on Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield and encourages relatives of people buried there to visit when they can, since the Army normally conducts training in the vicinity of the cemeteries.
Lovette said his grandparents are buried in Pleasant Grove Cemetery, one of the African-American cemeteries on post. The commissioner said his church, Pleasant Grove, is often referred to as Taylors Creek by older church members who remember the community by that name.
Greer said about 450 people are buried at Taylors Creek. The community was likely established in the late 1700s, he said.
Lovette’s mother, Louise, reminisced about the last days of Taylors Creek. She was about 9 when her family moved off reservation land.
“We lived off the land,” Lovette said. “Life was simpler then, you know. A rolling store would come through on the dirt road and mama would trade eggs for sugar. My daddy raised hogs and smoked the meat. We took corn to the grist mill. We milked our cows and took the cream and made butter in a jar. We gathered berries for jelly. We had a good living.”
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