Operation Restore: A Good Step Has Been Made at Mel Haven Cemetery

Group photo of volunteers during Operation Restore, a recent work effort at Mel Haven Cemetery in Sulphur Springs

Mel Haven Cemetery is an important part of local history in Hopkins County, and efforts launched on a recent clean-up day has sparked an encouraging start to restoration of the property. Located next to Sulphur Springs City Cemetery, Mel Haven has been the final resting place of scores of black Americans since before 1900. Records located at the Hopkins County Genealogical Library show that the land was donated to the ‘colored people of Sulphur Springs’ in 1889 by C. M. Houston, and that it was called ‘colored city cemetery’ until it’s name was changed in 1931. The Debord family had donated the road that goes to Mel Haven cemetery, and it is named DeBord Street. In 1985 the Pogue family donated more land to Mel Haven. Rhonda Bechhold, a local genealogical researcher who has done extensive personal research in the cemetery in 2019 has documented 1,140 grave sites with 550 of these having a grave marker with a burial date. Sadly, many of the burial sites are quite dim and even overgrown by encroaching brush, making it difficult to get to the graves. By contrast, there are many well-tended gravesites and family plots in Mel Haven Cemetery, with the upkeep done mostly on an individual basis by family members. The “Wreaths Across America” project carried out by Dena and Jimmy Loyd in December 2018 brought an overall cleanup of visible graves, with a laying of a wreath on each veteran’s grave which could be located.

Over past decades, members of the Mel Haven Cemetery Society have expended much effort and loving care to keep the cemetery clean and in repair. However today, much of the membership has aged and many are no longer able to undertake the physical work necessary for regular clean-up days. This was one of the reasons behind the formation of Operation Restore and the workday scheduled for Saturday September 14, 2019.

That morning, more than four dozen volunteers appeared with tools and equipment to clean and trim the grounds, re-position fallen stones and in general, to show respect and loving care for all the graves in the cemetery. Large sections of overgrown brush was trimmed back, revealing gravesites that had not been touched in years. Some trees were removed to halt further root damage on the grounds. Fallen limbs and debris were gathered to be hauled off. Family plots were cleaned and new flowers placed. According to Ms. Bechhold, two sections were completely cleaned and eight graves discovered and documented. This summer, City of Sulphur Springs workers placed signs on both ways of Seventh Street that say ‘Mel Haven Cemetery’ with arrows pointing to the turn onto DeBord Street. “There’s still a lot of work to do. And it’s time for a younger generation to step up and take responsibility for the condition of Mel Haven Cemetery, and to prepare for it’s future upkeep” stated one of the cleanup volunteers. Officers of the Mel Haven Cemetery Society are Chairman J.D. Franklin and Secretary Michelle Gasaway. Eddie Askew is a caretaker and Wilbert Roland is one of the remaining members. Jason Lindley and Ricky Godbolt are among community volunteers interested in the maintenance of the cemetery. According to Lindley, “we express a heartfelt thank you from the Mel Haven Cemetery Society and its volunteers for all the individuals that made this day possible. All those individuals that lifted prayers, made donations, whether it was tools, food, monetary donations, or even just your time. Thank you for the support from Hopkins County Commissioners, Hopkins County Genealogical Society, Hopkins County EMS, Sulphur Springs City Officials, Sulphur Springs Law Association, Masonic Columbia Lodge #81 and all of those who labored.

Tools for researching one’s ancestors are what the Hopkins County Genealogical Library offers free to the people of Hopkins County. Trained assistance is offered free by Genealogical Society members. In addition to library records on file and computer searches, the Genealogical Society also offers programs on the subject. Ms. Ari Wilkins, a researcher of black history, is the speaker on Thursday September 19, 2019 at 7pm at the Hopkins County Genealogical Library, located inside the Sulphur Springs Public Library at 611 North Davis Street. Guests are welcome to attend the meeting, and to make use of the library’s resources during it’s regular hours of operation. Find out more at hcgstx.org.

Author: Enola Gay

Has enjoyed working for KSST since 1989. Hosts the Good Morning Show with Enola Gay on weekday mornings from 6-9am, so 'start your day with Enola Gay'! Guest interviews during the Morning Show can also be seen in playback on Cable Channel 18 TV. Along with local country music fan Benny Potter, co-produces 1230 West, a Country and Western Swing radio show which airs weekly on Saturdays from 7-8am and repeats on Thursdays from 7-8pm. Also writes "At the Corral Gate", a column appearing weekly in The Millennium Shopper and in the Lifestyles section of ksstradio.com.

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