Madison County

What do you do with a neglected cemetery with no living owners?

Stewart Davidson, 75, is trying to find help in clearing away the brush from an abandoned Madison County cemetery near Blue Grass Army Depot. More than 900 bodies are buried there.
Stewart Davidson, 75, is trying to find help in clearing away the brush from an abandoned Madison County cemetery near Blue Grass Army Depot. More than 900 bodies are buried there.

Two or three years ago, Stewart Davidson was driving on U.S. 421 when he saw a stone monument standing off the side of the road. He stopped to investigate and came upon a long-neglected cemetery.

So began the retiree’s project to clear the tall weeds from the final resting place for 901 bodies near the main gate to Blue Grass Army Depot.

“It’s such a total disrespect for the dead, and this should not be allowed to happen,” Davidson said. “Those people who are relatives should be appalled that something like this was allowed to happen.”

Davidson, 75, who lives in Battlefield Estates near the cemetery, hopes to find the money and people to clear the overgrown five acres.

“I’m just looking for help,” Davidson said.

The cemetery contains the remains of people who were buried on private plots and cemeteries until the U.S. Army needed land for the depot in the 1940s. The army had a private contractor move the remains and stones to what is known as “Cemetery A” off U.S. 421. The cemetery is surrounded on three sides by Clarksville Subdivision and is across the road from the Army Reserve National Guard Center on the depot.

Trustees were appointed for the cemetery and the Army provided money for its maintenance. But in 1973, the Army declared it would no longer provide that support.

The cemetery was once the responsibility of the Blue Grass Memorial Association, but all the trustees of that group are dead. The land was supposedly transferred to that group in 1942, but a deed could not be found Wednesday in the Madison County Clerk’s Office.

“The deed was never filed,” said Jackie Couture, a former president of the Madison County Historical Society who did an inventory of the burials. “The board of trustees — all the members died. So there’s really nobody who owns that piece of property.”

Under state law, a cemetery abandoned within a city limits can be taken over by a city after applying to a local circuit court, said Terry Sebastian, spokesman for the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office. A county could use the same law to apply for control of a cemetery in an unincorporated area of a county, but it would be up to the circuit court to approve, Sebastian said.

In any case, Davidson has approached local and federal officials seeking help, but his efforts are stalled as he seeks some way to raise money to clean up the cemetery.

He has thought about starting an online crowd-funding site to raise money, but he would still need able bodies and equipment to mow the brush and tall weeds.

Death dates on the relocated stones range from 1802 to 1932, according to archival records. The 10-foot-tall obelisk that Davidson saw from the road is for Ann Maria Wallace Yates, who died in 1850 at age 25. Other relatives are also listed at the base.

Nearby is a stone for Mattie L. Jones, wife of H.G. Jones, who died in 1873 at age 18.

Other family names in the cemetery include Todd, Broaddus, Collins, Ballew, Ogg, Dozier and Frazier, according to an inventory listed in the Eastern Kentucky University archives.

Another person buried there is Cpl. Sidney Todd, a Union soldier from Irvine with Co. F, 14th Kentucky Cavalry, who died in 1863 at age 35. Eighty men from that regiment died from disease, according to a “battle unit details” search function on the National Park Service’s Civil War web page.

Davidson, retired from sales, was a medic in the Army Reserve from 1963 to 1969 but his unit in Lexington was never sent overseas. His desire to see the cemetery cleaned up goes beyond his military service.

“I’m just trying to get some respect for the dead,” he said.