MONROE, Ga. — Clean-up efforts continue at the Zion Hill Cemetery off Alcovy Street in Monroe as volunteers work to clear the detritus of years from the overgrown lot where the black community graveyard still stands.
Zion Hill Cemetery was once attached to the Zion Hill church on Alcovy, but in the mid-1800s the church split into two congregations, both of which moved to new locations. The old church property was split into lots and sold piecemeal, with the exception of the cemetery property.
Unsold and, as a registered cemetery, exempt from taxes, the cemetery was essentially invisible to the authorities and surrounding property owners, and the lot was slowly allowed to molder into a tiny wilderness as trees sprouted and fell, gravestones fell over, plots sank over graves and undergrowth died away, leaving the area covered in little more than dirt, leaves and weeds.
Now, however, a group of volunteers is working to try and revive the site and get the cemetery back in shape once more.
Elizabeth Jones is leading the charge to improve the lot and said she hopes to see more changes coming.
“Right now we’re just doing what we can to cut back all the growth and try and get it looking a bit more presentable,” she said.
Removing all the vines, thorns and weeds is one thing, however. Replacing the white crosses — erected in the early 2000s, none of them necessarily mark an actual grave but stand there merely to give the site the look of a cemetery — with proper markers is one of the biggest challenges.
To confront that issue, the volunteers got a boost Monday one their latest clean-up day from W&A Engineering, which as part of their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteer efforts agreed to survey the property.
“We always try to give back every year,” John Brewer, with W&A Engineering in Monroe, said. “We’re happy to help with this important project.”
After the survey, eventually the hope is to explore the lot with ground-penetrating radar to discover where the actual graves are and begin properly marking them for commemoration.
“We’d love to eventually get the cemetery registered as a historic site, too,” Jones said. “We’ve talked about trying to get the city involved eventually, so once we’ve restored everything, they can take on the minimal task of maintenance down the line.”
For now, though, those are long-distance goals. There’s still much to be done in the present just to get the site looking less like a wilderness, though things are already much better, Jones said.
“This place used to look like a jungle, so we’ve come a long way,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”