New status means more funding for Oak Hill organization

by W. Winston Skinner


Nick Austin works to fit pieces of one of the Reese markers together – the first restoration project that led to the Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery. Elizabeth Beers looks on. 

Newnan historian Elizabeth Beers was giving a tour of Oak Hill Cemetery.

“I mentioned that I would like to have some work done on some markers. One person on the tour – who had just moved here – sent me a check for $500,” she remembered. The unsolicited and unexpected gift began a project that is now poised to restore some of the most elaborate and imposing of the markers in the downtown Newnan burial ground.

Beers used the $500 give to set up a Cemetery Restoration Fund at Fidelity Bank. “That money was used to clean the marker for the Berry infant,” she said.

The gift also was the seed that grew into the Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery. That organization has now received approval from the Internal Revenue Service for its 501(C)3 non-profit status. The new status means gifts to the friends group can now be deducted from income taxes.

Contributions may be sent to: Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery, 15 Robinson St., Newnan, GA 30263. After seeing the baby’s grave restored, Beers wrote letters to descendants of families buried at Oak Hill and to other people. “Over the past three years I have received over $12,000 that has been used – sometimes for specific graves or just general use,” she said.

Initially, Beers concentrated on the Dr. J.T. Reese lot. The lot is close to Jefferson Street, and the work – done by Nick Latham – was visible to motorists passing the cemetery.

The markers of Reese’s wife, Cornelia, and their daughter, Lou, were lying in pieces on the ground. “We were able to figure it out and put them back together,” Beers explained.

Beers has a clear love for the old cemetery and its many quirks. “I do tours of the cemetery at Halloween and for individual groups as requested,” she said. She also put together a brochure about the cemetery.

“There is a lot history there – and some fun things,” she said.

She noted that Cornelia and Lou Reese have elegant markers with fine carving. “We presume that is Dr. Reese buried between them, but … his grave is merely covered with brick, with no identification,” she noted.

A city council member donated $2,500 which was used to repair two markers in the Caldwell lot and adjoining markers in the R.A. Field lot. Field “was superintendent of Newnan Cotton Mills for a while,” Beers said, and that family’s lot has particularly unusual carving and markers with identifying information on top and epitaphs carved on a different plane – facing the cemetery street.

“One person who was very happy to contribute was Skin Edge to clean Lamar and Catherine Potts’ and Julia Potts Short's markers,” Beers said. Edge is a local attorney, and Lamar Potts, his grandfather, was a longtime sheriff legendary for his role in the “Murder in Coweta County” story.

“Donations from a family other than the Coles were used to repair and clean the E.M. Cole mausoleum,” Beers said.

Broken glass was replaced in the door, and Ronald Jones replicated the original stained glass window on the back side. “I was also able to get a donation to mark the crypt of E.M. Cole Jr., who had been buried in 1984,” Beers said.

Beers said E.M. Cole III died last year and left $40,000 in his will to tear the mausoleum down “because it was in bad repair and dirty.” Because the mausoleum has been returned to pristine condition, Cole heirs are trying to find a way to use the funds another way.

“Will Dreggors cleaned the rest of the markers on the triple Cole lot and the coping as his Eagle Scout project,” Beers said. Another Boy Scout is looking for a project, and Beers is going to suggest work at the Joseph G. Arnall lot.

Arnall was the father of Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall.

Eventually, Beers contacted city officials to request help with the massive markers in the Bigby-Parrott lot. It was suggested she apply for non-profit status. Newnan attorney Alan Jackson helped prepare the application. “It took a year and a half, but I have just received the approval,” Beers said Monday.

She has asked a local foundation for $4,500 to restore the George H. Carmical lot. The lot “has the concrete wall around it and the 12 indentations inside,” Beers said. “The wall was probably built in 1917 when ‘Miss’ Florrie Carmical died.”

Carmical was a Confederate veteran who was sent to Harper’s Ferry, fought at Manassas and surrendered at Appomattox. In “Coweta Chronicles,” he wrote that he was “seriously wounded twice and slightly wounded twice.”

His mother was a Hunter, and the Carmicals and Hunters were pioneer families. His wife, Florence, was the granddaughter of Randal Robinson, a Revolutionary War soldier who was one of Coweta County’s first settlers.

With the non-profit status in place, Beers now hopes to contact “sources of grants and big donations” to restore the Bigby-Parrott and Berry lots. She estimated the massive projects would cost $40,000-$50,000.

She marveled at how the cemetery restoration project has grown and moved forward. “One thing leads to another,” she said. “Sometimes all the little items come together.”

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