Mulberry Street Cemetery project about to get underway, including marking over 1,000 graves

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, March 6, 2024

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When Visit LaGrange, and numerous partners, set out to restore Mulberry Street Cemetery, the plan was to highlight the historical significance of the cemetery and the hundreds of unmarked graves that had been located there.

In 2015, The Troup County Archives received a grant that paid for a ground penetrating study, which located more than 400 unmarked graves in the cemetery. At that time, the grave of historically-renowned bridge builder Horace King was enhanced. 

However, as the project has come together, a second scan was performed with updated technology, and the results were stunning. A total of 1,005 unmarked graves were found in the cemetery, many, if not all, believed to be African Americans who were buried there between 1863 and the 1900s.

As part of the restoration project, each grave will receive a stone marker, and there’s hope that one day some of the people interred in the cemetery will be identified, though much work remains on that front.

The project, which has been years in the making and has been the result of numerous partnerships, is now fully taking shape.

Kathy Tilley, president and CEO of Visit LaGrange, said the restoration project is expected to begin in Spring 2024 with plans for it to open to the public in early 2025.

“The Mulberry Street Cemetery project represents a pivotal moment in our city’s commitment to preserving our cultural heritage and honoring the memory of those who came before us,” Tilley said. “By revitalizing this sacred space, we hope to create a lasting tribute that fosters community pride and serves as a beacon of remembrance for future generations.”

Part of the purpose for the project is to bring cemeteries that were separate — Mulberry Street Cemeteries was the original name given to the property in 2016  — into one historic property.

A Confederate cemetery, which includes soldiers from all 13 states of the Confederacy, is also on the property, all of those graves already marked. However, the unmarked graves will soon be marked, and the property, already having been renamed as Mulberry Street Cemetery, will become a comprehensive public education space showcasing local and regional history.

King’s legacy includes the construction of at least 125 bridges across the region, including the Wehadkee Covered Bridge in 1873. The original Wehadkee bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1886, but it was restored by King’s son, George.

The remade bridge was reconstructed using Horace King’s design and was relocated to Callaway Gardens in 1965 to preserve it further. The bridge went unused for many years, and Tilley led efforts to get it brought back to Troup County.

Visit LaGrange paid $300,000 to get the bridge back to Troup County and the Callaway Foundation paid the other $250,000, Tilley said.

In 2021, the bridge was returned, and it now sits as part of Mulberry Cemetery, very close to Horace King’s grave.

The restoration project will be massive, completely reshaping the space while also keeping the historic elements in place, as well as adding markers to educate visitors.

Kiosks will be placed near the Confederate cemetery, the African American cemetery and Horace King’s grave.

A pavilion will be placed to welcome visitors into the cemetery. An iron fence currently around the property, originally located around Lafayette Square, will be used in some capacity as well.

“Our goal is for visitors to learn more about LaGrange, be able to enrich their trip here, and have a deeper understanding of LaGrange,” Tilley said.

The renovation will include a walkway that will go around the outside of the cemetery, circling around King’s grave, the African American cemetery and the Confederate cemetery. Benches will be placed throughout. A trail will also go through the center of the cemetery. Markers for the currently unmarked graves will be in different varieties, including a 12×12 slab and a vertical marker.

Tilley said the project is being funded by a $1.8 million state grant, which starts when construction begins.

One area will include an outdoor classroom, with granite seats tucked into the geography, inviting school groups to have a place to sit and talk. There will also be a sexton’s garden, honoring and recognizing the people who have taken care of the cemetery over the years.

The Thread mixed-use trail will also connect to the backside of the property as well.

Tilley said there’s a plan to create an African American trail in LaGrange, which will include Warren Temple United Methodist Church, East Depot Street the Mulberry Street Cemetery, among other locations, that will invite visitors to learn more about the city’s history. Her hope is the trail will entice visitors to make a drive to LaGrange to see the property.