Church members roll up their sleeves to help clean up historic Mel Haven Cemetery
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

March 17, 2006 - Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints rolled up their sleeves recently for a service project that involved cleaning up one of the area's oldest cemeteries.

"Many of our members are into doing genealogy, and you can't even hardly tell who is buried there. So we all kind of got excited about this project," said church member Darrell Stringer.

Mel Haven Cemetery, located behind the Sulphur Springs City Cemetery, dates back to the late 1880s and was a place where many slaves were buried, according to June Tuck, a member of the Hopkins County Genealogical Society, who has taken it upon herself to index all of the cemeteries in the area. 

"No one knows where the cemetery got its name, but we feel like it was started at the same time the City Cemetery was," said Tuck, who explained that at the time, African Americans would not have been allowed to be buried in the City Cemetery. "Many of the graves are unmarked. They would put up a marker of some kind, but no tombstones — that's just what they did back then."

According to Tuck, there is no doubt in her mind that there are lots of graves from as early as the 1850s.

"Grandmothers and family used to keep the graves clean, but that is in the past," Tuck said. "This new generation doesn't do that."

Tuck said that she has been concerned about the historic cemetery since she first began trying to document those laid to rest there.

"Preservation is very, very important," said Tuck, who explained Mel Haven has no perpetual funds for groundskeeping. "One of the first things people ask for when researching their genealogy is cemetery books, and it's been almost impossible to get to some of the graves and tombstones due to the terrible overgrowth of blackberry vines and briars."

Hopkins County and Sulphur Springs law enforcement officers, in recent years, have volunteered some of their time to clean up the property located behind Sulphur Springs City Cemetery, said Stringer, who credits Precinct 1 County Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker for giving them the idea for this year's community project.

Thirty-eight members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, located at 1701 Loop 301 east, brought four tractors, one BobCat, 15 chainsaws, plus sand, brush mowers and other heavy equipment, yard rakes, clippers and shovels to aid in cutting brush away from headstones, remove dead trees and brush, level sunken graves and clear off fence rows.

Last year, in the months of October and November, the group took the same heavy equipment to Hattiesburg, Miss., and Slidell, La., to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"We just showed up to help," said Stringer. "We cut trees off of houses and moved them with tractors so that FEMA could pick them up."

This year, church members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saint chose a project that would benefit their own community.

"We spent the whole day on this cleanup project," Stringer said. "And we were all very exited about how it turned out."

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