When exploring the history of the Houstonville Moravian Church, it quickly became evident there was an unresolved mystery concerning it’s graveyard.
To simplify the content of the full post on that church into relevant data, here is the history of the graveyard I have been able to discover.
The first recorded death in the church is likely Mary Isabelle Brown. She died in May of 1926, before Houstonville had an established graveyard. Because of this, even though her funeral was at Houstonville, she was buried just down the road at Holly Springs Baptist Church.
No doubt the church members knew if they were to continue on as a church this would be something they would have to face again at some point in the future, and so it was decided to prepare land for burials at the church.
In March of 1927 four initial grave plots are laid out. This was simply done by surveying the land and dividing it into usable plots. The space directly behind the church was chosen for this purpose.
The first recorded burial at Houstonville Moravian Church happens in 1930 when Jundra Amanda Cloer died in July. However, Mrs. Cloer is no longer at Houstonville, nor is her husband, James Washington Cloer, who would be buried there in 1940.
In fact, when I went looking for their graves, I instead found them at Holly Springs. This discovery was a surprise to me, but it wouldn’t be the last.
The truth is, not a single person who I can confirm was buried at Houstonville is still there. Or at least, I don’t think they are.
Finding the Cloers down the road in another graveyard, I created a list of what I knew about the Houstonville graveyard.
First, there are 3 verified burials that take place at Houstonville. The Cloers and Lillian Bell Morrison, who was J.W. Cloer’s elderly sister. Her heart stopped while she was sitting in a chair in 1937, sandwiched between the deaths of her sister in law and brother.
Second, there is the possibility of more unknown burials at Houstonville. We know of these because at the time, the Wachovia Moravian newspaper listed membership numbers and deaths in each church every year.
These recorded deaths add up to 4 total burials. Their identity and the location of their original burial is so far unknown. There would have been one in 1939, one in 1940, and two in 1941.
This means that the original Houstonville graveyard could have held at least as many as 7 total graves. But none of those graves are at Houstonville today. So what happened?
Talking with Terry Bullin, who is a current member of Houstonville Baptist Church (which is what the old Moravian building is now), it seems the oral history tells us that all the graves were disinterred and moved when the Moravians left. Beyond that, he wasn’t able to tell me particulars.
What year this would have taken place and the details of this endeavor should have been big news in the local community, but there are no written accounts or records of this happening. Digging up and moving an entire graveyard ought to have been something on the local radar. Someone should have said something or written something about such a bizarre occurrence. But, so far, I haven’t been able to find anything. I even contacted a couple people at Holly Springs to ask about this, specifically in regards to the Cloers, but they didn’t know anything about it at all.
There are a couple ways this could have transpired.
1. The church closed in 1944. It could be the Moravians moved the graves at that time fearing the property would not be taken care of.
2. The church was also used for revivals and various meetings after it closed. They could have also been moved piecemeal during those years.
3. The Baptists who purchased the building from the Hayes family in 1960 could have taken it upon themselves to move the graves.
Of these three possibilities the first is the only one that makes sense. The Moravians had both reason and financial ability to move the graves when the church closed. During the interim years, it seems unlikely the Hayes would pay to disinter an entire graveyard. It also seems unlikely that the Baptists would have any reason at all to move the old graves. Something of that sort happening as recent as 1960 would likely also be remembered.
So we possibly have 4 unknown burials that were moved to an unknown location and 2 that were definitely moved to Sandy Springs.
The Cloers are the only extant example I have of any of these moved graves, but even there questions arise. The stone on their grave is most certainly not the original. The Moravians laid flat, square stones in the ground at the time. The one currently in place at Holly Springs would have been a more expensive, more modern style marker. It had to have been placed after they were moved.
And where is Lillian Morrison?
We might not know the particulars of the 4 “unknown” burials, but Lillian was most assuredly originally buried at Houstonville.
But what happened after that?
Probably the most unlikely theory is that she was never moved from Houstonville. Even though there are modern burials there that come after the Baptists take over the property, we don’t know where exactly the original Moravian burials were within the cemetery boundaries. It could be Lillian’s stone was never placed, was destroyed, or was misplaced. If that’s the case, she could be anywhere within what is about a 7,000 square foot space behind the church.
More likely is that she was moved, either to Holly Springs with her brother and sister in law, or to South River Baptist Church where her husband John Morrison was buried 23 years prior to her death. If her second grave never had a marker placed on it, then either of these is a viable hypothesis. Holly Springs, for example, has a large void in it’s cemetery’s marked stones right in the middle of a well populated graveyard, right next to the Cloer’s plot. I don’t know why this is or who may be there, but I think it’s entirely possible that Lillian Morrison, a poor widow who was living with her brother John’s family at the time of her death, may lie there, unmarked and unknown.
At South River, where her husband was buried, I haven’t been able to find his grave either. If she was buried with him there, perhaps they are both in an unmarked plot.
But here’s the kicker. Inscribed on her brother James’ marker, in tiny letters that I had overlooked a dozen times if not more…
Is Lillian Morrison buried in the same plot as her brother and sister-in-law? Is she buried in the empty space next to them? Why wasn’t her married name used on the stone? Why were no birth or death dates included? Why is her name misspelled? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I think there’s a very good possibility that when James and Jundra were moved, Lillian was moved with them, and buried at the same time, and maybe even in the same plot.
To sum things up, there are many questions about Houstonville’s original cemetery, and I don’t know that we’ll ever really be able to answer them all. The closing of the church was haphazard it seems, and the Moravians, despite keeping good records of it when it was functioning, quickly stopped talking about it or making mention of it once it failed. Unfortunately, in the shuffle, at least Lillian Morrison and maybe several others were lost.
But maybe Mrs. Morrison has been rediscovered over 80 years after her death.