Cemetery project nearing completion

Published 9:36 am Friday, May 11, 2018

VALLEY —  The activity room at the new Valley Senior Center was dedicated to the memory of Donald Perry Williams on Wednesday, and a major upgrade at the church cemetery he loved is nearly finished.

At Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony, Mayor Leonard Riley recommended those who have not seen the new look at the Bethlehem Church Cemetery need to go take a look.

When Williams died a few years ago, he left some $633,000 in an estate. He specified that the money be spent on the renovation of the historic Bethlehem Church, which was built on River Road in the 1870s. It was a well-intended gesture, given the building’s history. Unfortunately, the building was too far gone by that time to be saved. An engineering study in 2007 determined that it would cost at least $1.5 million to firm up the foundation and there was no guarantee that remedy would spare the building long-term. The structure itself was in an advanced state of deterioration.

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City officials met with the executor of the Williams estate, John David Scott, and worked out a mutually acceptable alternate plan regarding the earmarked money. It was agreed for $125,000 to go to some much-needed improvements at the church cemetery, with the remaining money going to the new senior center.

“Everyone involved in the decision felt Mr. Williams would have approved of the use of his estate in this manner,” Mayor Riley said.

Riley said the improvements at the cemetery are approximately 90 percent complete. The removal of the aging church building several weeks ago opened up space for a new parking area and a pavilion-like structure known as a pergola. City of Valley horticulture specialist Chuck Rudd has overseen the project, and it’s a most impressive sight. It’s a peaceful, serene setting with new sodding and colorful plants. Some new benches and some historical markers will be added later.

The project has included firming up some grave sites that had fallen in and repairing some of the grave markers that were in bad shape.

Bethlehem Church Cemetery is one of the most historically significant sites in Valley. It marks the final resting places of people like Elisha Trammell, who built the first grist mill in the Langdale area; Bartow Trammell, for whom Trammell Block in Fairfax is named and Felix Shank, a close personal friend of John Parnell, who started the Sunny Side Peach Farm on River Road in the post-Civil War era. Sunny Side is widely considered one of the first commercially successful peach-growing operations in the U.S.

The site is surrounded by a very nice wrought-iron gate. Plans are to have plants on the site that are particularly colorful from spring to fall. They include azaleas, forsythia, Chinese snowball bushes, variegated liriope, purple beautyberries, burning bushes, and Hearts-a-Burstin.