A stranger asking about his father’s final resting place sent the administrator of Community Care of Rutherford County on a years-long search.
“A gentleman came in the facility,” Community Care Administrator Mark King explained about that fateful meeting. “He said his dad had brought him and his sister here in 1935.”
At the height of the Great Depression many had become homeless and some made their way to what was then the County Farm, also known as the poorhouse, including this man and his family.
This former resident told King his mother had died and his father had no where to turn, so the family went to the County Farm. The man’s father eventually sent his son and daughter off to live with relatives in Maury County, but he stayed at the farm until his death.
“He asked where his father would have been buried. He wanted to do something,” King said. “That’s what started it for me.”
King’s search ended when he found the paupers cemetery languishing in the woods near Community Care.
For almost 200 years Rutherford County has provided a place for those in need at the County Farm. It started as a self-sustaining farm where the poor and insane could find the care they needed has developed into Community Care of Rutherford County.
“The County Farm has provided a major social service to the county from the early 1890s to the present,” wrote Ed Annable in a history of the farm printed in a Rutherford County Historical Society’s publication. “The farm has provided care and shelter for the county’s poor, handicapped, mentally ill and juvenile delinquents. It had also provided facilities to house the county’s prisoners.”
Most of what is known of the history of the County Farm is what Annable found in the minutes of the Rutherford County Commission, which still oversees the operations of Community Care as an extension in the evolution of the County Farm.
Part of that evolution was selling off the land associated with the farm.
In the early 1960s, the county decided to transition the poorhouse into a rest house for the county’s elderly. To facilitate the transition, about 185 acres of the 208 acre farm were sold to Angus Maples, King said.
The County Farm’s pauper cemetery was excluded from the sale, but it wasn’t labeled on any maps as a cemetery.
“It’s was just a block of county-owned land on the tax maps,” said Bethany Hall, a geographic information system analyst for Rutherford County. There wasn’t anything to designate it as the lost County Farm cemetery, she added.
Annable found reference to the cemetery, which said it was located on “a hill to the east of the County Farm Road” and “south of the entrance to the present Rutherford County Nursing Home.”
After a title search at the Rutherford County Register of Deeds office, King contacted Angus Maples’ son and current property owner, Stuart Maples.
“Mr. Maples was a young kid when his father bought the land. He remembered the cemetery and brought me out here one day,” King said.
Used for nearly 50 years as cattle grazing land, the paupers cemetery has fallen into disrepair.
Graves have collapsed in, leaving deep depressions with both large and small trees growing from the final resting places of the county’s least fortunate citizens. Most graves were only marked with field stones, which have fallen over or disappeared completely over the years.
“It was forgotten. The county didn’t know it was theirs,” King said.
King now intends to rehabilitate the cemetery.
“Our intent is to reclaim the cemetery,” he said, adding Rutherford County Archivist John Lodl combed the death rolls and produced about 60 names, which could be as many as half of those buried there from when it was in use between 1891 and 1962.
King has hope the dead can be commemorated with a marker, listing the names of those known and honoring those names lost to time.
That way, should the gentleman return looking for his father, King will know where the man’s father is buried.
To read more about the history of the County Farm and to view more photos of the cemetary, pick up a copy of the Sunday, June 23, 2013, print edition of The Murfreesboro Post.