A Georgia man is asking for help from local DeKalb County residents to join him in keeping up the Lower Sulfer Springs Cemetery in Fort Payne.
The cemetery, located just off the 49th Street exit of I-59, has more than 200 graves that are not being maintained by anyone, Joe Adams said.
Adams is a Rome, Georgia native who recently discovered that his great-great grandmother, Sarah Lou Rice Adams, is buried in Fort Payne.
“I found out about this about a year ago, I came up here to look at the cemetery and the grave and I was astonished,” he said.
Adams said when he came to look for her headstone, it took him two trips of searching through high grass and undergrowth to find it. Not only was her grave grown over, but the headstone was also broken into two prices. A year later, and after calling multiple agencies and offices in the county, Adams has decided to re-start the Lower Sulfer Springs Cemetery Association that he heard was dissolved several years ago.
“My goal is to try and get the citizens here to help, to reinvigorate and rejoin this Lower Sulfer Springs Cemetery Association,” Adams said.
By starting a Facebook page and reaching out across the county, he hopes to enlist the help of people to work a few times a year and honor the ancestors buried there.
“I want local people to come and start taking care of their own family members’ graves,” he said. “You’ve got family members here with 17 families in this cemetery.”
Adams is retired from the United States Army and says he now has the time and ability to help with something that he says our communities are neglecting.
“When I see things like this I think, ‘You know what? I can help. I can make a difference,’ and I’m looking for those kind of people,” he said. “People that are recently retired, between 60 and 70, and are still strong enough to come out here and do a little work for the family members.
“It’s not just this cemetery. I’m sure it’s county-wide, Alabama-wide and Georgia-wide, this is happening all over the country.”
Along with many local family members, there are several veterans’ graves that date back to the Civil War. Many of these deserve more care than has been shown to them, he said.
“I’d love for people to come work at their family members’ graves, and I’d be honored if they worked on others too,” Adams said.
Once a year, the DeKalb County Detention Center trustees, who do grounds keeping jobs across the county, cut the grass in May for Decoration Day; however, Adams says this will not be enough to keep the graves maintained.
In his most recent cleanup efforts, Adams has cleared the majority of the tall grass alone with a single push lawn mower and needs help.
He is asking for residents that are interested in joining the association to have three work days a year. Most of the work can be accomplished by lawn mowers and weed eaters but the driveway of the cemetery is on a very steep hill that he said could be dangerous for older volunteers to work on. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to let the trustees help keep the driveway cleared, he said.
Jimmy Durham, president of the Fort Payne City School Board of Education, said the cemetery sits adjacent to the location where the new Fort Payne Elementary School is being built. He and a group of other community leaders have been working to start a 501c3 nonprofit organization that will help get funding for the cemetery upkeep.
“What we’d like to do is fix it up really nice, make it attractive and maybe see if we can incorporate it into the curriculum,” Durham said. “Maybe letting the kids pick a certain grave and person buried there and do some genealogy on them.
Durham said civic clubs and classes from local schools will hopefully be able to be involved in the maintenance efforts, along with learning from the history of the cemetery.
For now, Adams is asking for anyone interested to come on August 31 at 8 a.m. for the association’s next cleanup day. Any grounds keeping equipment would be of great help and volunteers work for however long they can that day.
“Honestly, I’d just like some help,” he said.