Aiming to restore history

Dalton Sparks, a Life Scout working toward advancement to Eagle Scout, has chosen a unique and ambitious project of historical significance to our community.

Sparks is asking for volunteers and donors to help restore a minority cemetery that he plans to name after Pvt. Norman Smith, a World War I veteran buried on the west side of the 1.5- acre plot.

Located in plain view between the Municipal Building and the Post Office is a wooded strip of land, overgrown and neglected, that contains some 60 graves — some marked with headstones, others indicated only by a projecting rock and sunken rectangle.

“At the beginning of my research, Ken Penhale provided me with a 1916 hand-written journal of the Helena census,” Sparks said. “My current roster contains 59 names and I have found and identified nine headstones so far.”

Sparks also spoke with four longtime local residents, including Jimmy Lovelady.

Pauline Sharp Edwards provided him with at least four dozen names of people she could remember being buried there.

“Billy Dean Harris remembers the black kids and white kids engaging in rock throwing contests across Buck Creek. Billy said the kids were not aware of what ‘race’ was, they just all played together.”

Iris Bramblett, the oldest person interviewed so far, was an eyewitness ‘from the road’ to several funerals there. Large crowds could be seen when she was just a girl.

“She told me about the mass pauper’s grave ‘under the big oak tree,’ which is now uprooted,” Sparks said.

The area has been staked off into sectors and clearance of the underbrush has begun. The project is estimated at $12,000 to $15,000, which includes an iron fence and entry. Workdays are scheduled for Saturdays, 8 a.m. until sundown.

Sparks, a freshman at Kingwood Christian School, began the project with money he earned from mowing grass last summer. He plans to publish a book or pamphlet that chronicles the effort as it unfolds.

“My goal is to be completed with all clean-up and marker restoration by the end of June. I would like to make Eagle by the end of July so I can go to National Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort AP Hill in Virginia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of scouting, as an Eagle.”

Sparks grandfather and advisor on his Eagle project, Jerry Pate, attended the 50th Anniversary in 1960 at Colorado Springs, Colo.

To donate time, materials or money, contact Jerry Pate at 987-4861.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e–mail at labro16@yahoo.com.