A restoration process is bringing new life to some worn and weathered headstones at the Bright Star United Methodist Church cemetery dating as far back as 1886 when the cemetery was established. The church itself was founded in 1885.
The restoration is being done by Smith “Nick” Latham, a Douglasville resident who grew up in what was old Campbell County. Although he has been in the specialized headstone restoration business for 15 years, this is his first job in a Douglas County cemetery.
The owner of Southeastern Cemetery Restoration has contracts with the city of Savannah, Newnan, Fairburn, Tallahassee, Florida, and others, and most recently placed a bid with the city of Douglasville for restoration work within the old city cemetery downtown.
Latham has also done extensive work in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, founded in 1850, where the final remains are of such notables as Margaret Mitchell, Pulitzer prize-winning author of “Gone With the Wind;” golfer Bobby Jones; banker and railroad builder Alfred Austell, namesake of Austell, Georgia; Joseph E. Brown, governor of Georgia during the Civil War; Carrie Steele Logan, an ex-slave who founded the first African-American orphanage; and many others.
The worst aged, weather-worn headstones in Bright Star’s cemetery will be restored first, said Latham.
He uses a cleaning product he said looks like iodine and has a special product to repair cracks. For a monument that is leaning, he puts in a new base of 8-10 granite dust. When the repair and cleaning is complete, a sealant is used to keep the water out and restore the gravestone to its natural state.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you will do more harm than good,” Latham said. “We’ve never had to go back and redo something again that we’ve done.”
Those laid to rest in the Bright Star UMC cemetery reads like a Who’s Who of the Douglas County’s community, including familiar surnames like Yancey, Pope, Landers, Daniel, Camp, Bagwell, Robinson, Vansant , Milam, Pilgrim and Wright.
Many of the county’s roads bear the names of those gone before who — along with family members — are buried in the church cemetery on Bright Star Road, dating from the late 1800s into the early- to mid-1900s.
But from the 1960s up through the 1990s, there was little demand for burial at the Bright Star cemetery, according to Jack Yancey, long-time church member and member of the church’s cemetery trustees.
“There was not much activity here due to the disrepair,” said Yancey, ”and people did not want to be buried here.”
Since that time, the cemetery has gone through a resurgence of interest, thanks to the loving care of restoring the resting place by the group of trustees and other volunteers.
In 2000, the old, white, steepled original church building across the street from the large, brick sanctuary building was torn down, which paved the way to restore and preserve the cemetery grounds.
Latham said, “It’s a beautiful cemetery, sitting up on the hill.”
Yancey said that since 2000, he and other members of the cemetery board of trustees, including member Scott Fields, have been able to put every dime from purchase of a cemetery lot back and invested with the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve done a lot of work,” said Yancey, “and there has been a lot of opportunity for sales in this little cemetery.”
Yancey said that in these later years of the cemetery’s history, most people outside of the church want to be buried there.
The Yancey family has not been among them, however. Jack Yancey’s great-grandfather, Francis Marion Yancey, was buried there in 1912 and it was the first granite headstone in the cemetery cleaned by Latham.
“You couldn’t read it before,” Latham said.