Emerson councilman seeks recognition for Damascus Cemetery

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Nestled on a hill across from Love’s Travel Stop in Emerson, Damascus Cemetery continues to serve as a reminder of the 1800s Bartow community.

“Because of where Emerson is located — between two major highways, I-75 and U.S 41 — it was only a matter of time before development came a knocking,” said Emerson City Councilman Vincent Wiley, who also operates Joyride Pedicabs at LakePoint Sporting Community. “But what a lot of people don’t know is that there was an area in Emerson called Bartow, which is where present day LakePoint Sports is located.”

Along with preserving Emerson’s black history, Wiley also is trying to obtain national recognition for Damascus Cemetery. Situated beside LakePoint Sporting Community, the site is located on Old Allatoona Road.

“The cemetery, in my opinion, plays an integral part of the Bartow experience because of the close proximity to Allatoona Pass and the implications of slaves as well as Confederate and Union soldiers possibly being buried there,” Wiley said. “My ultimate goal for the Damascus Cemetery is to get the proper probing and research and get historical status.

“... History has always been a passion of mine. And oftentimes African-American history is not known. To know some of my ancestors lived and thrived on this land makes me proud. It gives me a sense of who we were — a proud people. It is imperative for us to preserve what little African-American history that we have. If not for us, for our future generations to come. As the saying goes, if we don’t know where we come from, we don’t know where we’re going. Emerson historically has been rich in minerals, but more importantly, we are rich in our people.”

In conducting his research, Wiley is interviewing area residents and referring to written materials, such as Carlton Etheridge’s 2004 “Investigative Survey Report: Damascus Cemetery.”

According to the survey, “After the Civil War in 1865, the freed blacks began to settle into a community known as Bartow ... or the ‘Bartow section of Emerson’ (East Emerson). This area was located within the current Emerson city limits along the Allatoona Road between Highway 41 and I-75.

“The black community established the first Damascus Baptist Church, a small wood framed structure, in November 1873. Later, when the Bartow area land was being bought for the mining of manganese ... blacks began moving to the west side of Emerson where the current Damascus Baptist Church building stands.”

While the survey reveals 741 burials were located within the cemetery, Wiley believes the site could contain more. With the Damascus Cemetery possibly being the resting site for slaves and Civil War soldiers, he is hoping in the future an archaeological team will pinpoint the final number.

“What remained of [the African-American community’s] prior existence was the Damascus Cemetery,” said Wiley, adding the site also is where the majority of his relatives are buried. “The Damascus Cemetery is a free burial ground for the black community. Archival research indicates that it may pre-date the Civil War. The date of beginning for the cemetery is not known, but it is believed that the first interments were slaves. It is also believed that Union soldiers are buried at Damascus.”

“The earliest known date of burial is believed to be June 14, 1864. Mr. Carl Borders stated that ... his mother-in-law, Mrs. Sarah Johnson — 100 years old at time — [said] that she had been told that Civil War soldiers are buried at Damascus. It is believed that during the Battle of Allatoona Pass some soldiers were ... buried at Damascus Cemetery.”

Wiley’s passion for this project was sparked in March after attending an Etowah Valley Historical Society program called Bartow Iron Works and Mining Legacy at LakePoint Sporting Community and talking with EVHS Vice President Joe Head.

“Yes, we are eager to expand our African-American history knowledge throughout all of Bartow County,” Head said. “The mining community of Bartow appears to have some rare black history that we want to explore.

“... At the moment, we are on the front end of this African-American project to build on what we already know for Emerson. We look forward to working with Vince and any others who can contribute valid information regarding Emerson/Bartow history. Once it is satisfactorily collected and written, EVHS will be happy to include it in our holdings.”