Historic New Hope Cemetery continues to emerge with the continuing work to rehabilitate the only remnants of what was once an African-American church and school in the Tusculum community.
The cemetery now looks very different and a database has been created about the individuals buried in the cemetery due to the recent efforts of a service-learning class at Tusculum College. The class was taught by Robin Fife, assistant professor of social science.
Located near the intersection of Oak Grove and Old Shiloh roads in what is now a residential area, the cemetery was at the site of what had been the New Hope Presbyterian Church and an affiliated school, established by former slaves following the Civil War. The church had ties to Tusculum. In 1869, the Rev. William Witherspoon Doak, then president of Tusculum College, was appointed by the Holston Presbytery to serve as an itinerant missionary, and as such, preached at the church. Tusculum students have been involved with the cemetery’s clean-up and rehabilitation since its rediscovery about eight years ago.
When students learned that the focus of the course would be the rehabilitation of the cemetery, some said they were surprised and doubtful that they would be able to do much of significance.
Discovering how much can be done through a focused effort in a short amount of time is one of the lessons students in the class say they learned from their experiences. The students were able to accomplish a great deal from beautifying the cemetery to creating a database of individuals buried in the cemetery that will aid in genealogical and historic research. The students also created a grid of the cemetery, mapping out and recording the location of the tombstones and other features of the cemetery. One group created family trees for some of the individuals buried in the cemetery, while another researched the best practices for preserving the tombstones and then put them into practice in cleaning lichen from the markers.
One group sought donations for the rehabilitation process and made recommendations of how the New Hope Cemetery Committee can possibly raise funds for the cemetery’s continued rehabilitation and its maintenance in the future. Another group recorded the progress of the class and made sure that the groups were communicating to ensure efforts were coordinated. The class members gave a presentation about their efforts Wednesday, April 6, which was attended by a number of community members, including members of the New Hope Cemetery Committee.
The class members divided into small groups to take on individual projects that involved their interests and talents. Class member Tom Salinas, from Brownsville, Texas, said that the students were not presented with a specific project to complete. “We had a problem, and we came up with our own projects and solutions,” he said. “Overall, it was a really wonderful experience.”
Clare McBeth of Martin said she learned that a small group can make a difference. “When we all got together and worked hard, we saw things can be changed.”
Other students spoke of the challenging nature of the project and a sense of accomplishment that came after a project was completed. “I like challenges,” said Donayle Watson of Elizabethton. “We had a challenge, and it was doing something to help the community.”
Charles Shrewsbury of Stanton, Va., recalled visiting cemeteries as he accompanied his father on family genealogical searches and said it was rewarding to be able to do something to help family members of those buried in the New Hope Cemetery have access to the cemetery. “Family relationships are important,” he said. “No one should be forgotten.”
The group that undertook the cleaning of the cemetery did plenty of that type of work, such as raking up leaves that filled 13 large trash bags. But, they also worked to make the cemetery a more attractive place for visitors by refinishing and repainting three benches that are now providing a place to sit and reflect in the cemetery. The benches were donated to the cemetery through one of the students in the class. The students also built a bridge over the deep ditch between the edge of the road and the entrance into the cemetery.
This group also made some discoveries as they worked. The students uncovered a set of steps at the back of the cemetery that may have led to either the church or the school.
The plotting and mapping group created a grid of the cemetery, using string and stakes to divide the cemetery into four foot by four foot squares. The group then recorded everything located in the squares to create a blueprint and map of the cemetery.
A related group researched the best practices in conserving the tombstones and compiled a list of “do’s and don’ts” for those who would be working in the cemetery in the future. The group put what they learned into practice, beginning the process of cleaning lichen from some of the markers.
Another group recorded the names of those found on the tombstones, which began their research into who was buried in the cemetery. Researching death certificates, cemetery lists and other information, the students were able to compile a database of individuals buried in the cemetery, listing names, birth and death dates, occupations and causes of death as possible. In their research, the students found the names of 54 persons who may be buried at the cemetery. The students said based on the information they found, they are almost certain 43 of the 54 are buried in the cemetery, thirty of which are in marked graves and 13 in unmarked.
The group found one person with a Tusculum College connection – Aaron Gudger who was a janitor at the college prior to his death as a result of a car accident.
Another group researched various families whose members are buried in the cemetery and created family trees for those families. The students researched census, birth, death and other records and contacted family members to learn more about the families.