Salem Cemetary gains state recognition

Published 11:14 am Friday, September 19, 2008

The old Salem Cemetery on Salem Road in Montevallo has been added to the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register through the efforts of H. G. McGaughy and others. The letter of acceptance from the Historical Commission read, “The Alabama Historic Cemetery Register is a prestigious listing of historic cemeteries in Alabama. These selected cemeteries are worthy of both recognition and preservation.”

The listing is an honorary designation. Salem Cemetery is the 14th cemetery in Shelby County listed on this register, which features 237 cemeteries statewide.

“Salem Cemetery is one of the oldest in Alabama,” McGaughy said. “Some of the more than 150 graves date back to the early 1830’s and is located on about two acres of land donated by Jack Bearden. Salem Road was originally called Elyton Road and ran from Elyton (now Birmingham) to Montevallo, on its way to Selma. Later that segment from Highway 119 to County Road 22 was renamed Salem Road because of the Salem Cemetery and the old Salem School located across the road from the cemetery.”

Among the majestic old oak trees the headstones in the cemetery carry the names of many old Montevallo families including Cunningham, McGaughy, Wooley, Bradford and Nix. Among others inscribed on the stones are Bearden, McHenry, Harrison and Lovelady. Years ago, Miss Mary Wooley and others purchased Alabama Power Company stock to create a perpetual fund to maintain the cemetery.

One of the handed down stories is that of a man, driving several hogs down the Elyton Road (now Salem Road), who died and was buried where the cemetery is today. Many of the old-timers said he was the first to be buried there.

McGaughy contributed the story of Elizabeth Welch Cunningham (an ancestor of Kenneth and Roy Cunningham), whose grave was originally enclosed in a mausoleum-like brick structure with a brick floor, an iron door and a slate roof. When the Yankees came through the Montevallo area during the Civil War, they destroyed the gravesite hoping to find valuables.

A morning walk through the beautiful Salem Cemetery is a fascinating lesson in history. The inscriptions on the headstones tell stories of almost 200 years of pride, love, hardship and loss.

Catherine Legg can be reached at