Hillsboro woman organizes cemetery clean-up
"Dearest father, thou hast left us, Here thy loss we deeply feel. But t'is God who hath bereft us, He can all our sorrows heal." - inscription on the gravestone of Hillsboro resident Andrew Jackson (1825-1900) in the Pleasant Green Cemetery.
Two dozen markers and stones in Pleasant Green Cemetery on Seebert Road indicate the final resting places of members of a once vibrant community - Hillsboro's black community of years past. Among those interred are a WWI veteran, a Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park superintendent and a nanny to a boy who became governor of West Virginia.
Hillsboro's black community dwindled over the years and the church became inactive. The church grounds were neglected and the cemetery overgrown with weeds. Trash from a church-owned rental house was piled upon graves. Ironically, money from the rental unit is intended to fund maintenance of the property.
As a child, Hillsboro resident Ruth Taylor knew some of the people buried at Pleasant Green. Taylor, whose property adjoins that of Pleasant Green Church, estimated that 50 to 100 blacks lived in the Hillsboro community during the 1950s. She recalled memories of George Steptoe Washington, a WWI veteran who worked as a farmhand.
"My first memory of Steptoe, I was probably six-years-old," she said. "When they would thresh the grain, they would bring in a big old threshing machine and a lot of the men of the community would go along and help each other from farm to farm. My mother had a big farmhouse table and she always cooked dinner, but it was at noon. We didn't have lunch, we had dinner. The men all came in and she had the table set in the kitchen and Steptoe said, 'oh no, Mrs. Weimer, I can't eat with the white folk, I'll take my plate out on the back porch.' She said, 'you're perfectly fine,' but he said 'I don't do that, I know my place.' She set a card table on the enclosed back porch for him. My brother was probably four years old and he said, 'if Mr. Steptoe's eating out here, I'm eating out here too' and he went out and ate with Steptoe."
Taylor said Washington probably felt more comfortable eating separately.
"He was just the most polite gentleman," she said. "He was just as nice as he could be and he helped everybody. There were just a lot of nice folks here."
Taylor also remembered Steptoe's wife, Eddie Foster Washington, nanny to young William Wallace Barron, who became West Virginia governor in 1961. Eddie Washington ran the restaurant at Watoga State Park for several years and cooked and tended homes for Pocahontas County families.
"Miss Eddie was more feisty," said Taylor. "She said what she thought. She made the best hot rolls and the best apple dumplings you ever tasted. When she parked the car at the store to go with somebody, she'd bring us some apple dumplings or some rolls. We always loved her. She was an excellent cook."
The Washingtons adopted and raised a son, Harry Hinson, who became an esteemed minister in the Midwest.
Saddened by the deplorable condition of the cemetery and frustrated by church inaction, Taylor took it upon herself to organize a clean-up. She contacted Elissa Taylor at the Community Corrections (CC) office, who agreed to send a team of workers.
For six days, the workers cut through masses of sticker bushes and poison ivy and hauled away trash. Clearing out a thicket, the workers discovered the headstones of Gordon Scott, a former superintendent at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, and his wife. Cutting away weeds, the workers uncovered two simple, stone markers - without names - with eye hooks embedded in the stone. Taylor recalled someone telling her that eye hooks, without a chain, represented freedom to emancipated slaves.
After a week, the cemetery was nearly rehabilitated. A pile of construction debris from the rental house remains, but visitors now can walk among the headstones and enjoy a pastoral view toward Sometimes Creek, so named because of its intermittent flow.
Taylor praised the work of the CC team.
"That is a wonderful program," she said. "Those young people who were down here helping me were just kids who made a mistake. I said, 'I think you're on the right path.' We talked a lot while we were working. I think this is a better program than smacking them on the hands and sending them to prison for things they've done. They worked harder than a lot of employees would. I would definitely hire them and I would give them a reference."
CC team members working at the cemetery included Johnny Via, Brittany Rider, Deanna Gladwell, Anthony Woody, Casey Grogg, Jeremy Moore, Derek Hannah, Collene Banks and Zach Morrison.
Taylor also expressed gratitude to James Johnson, who supervised and coordinated equipment; Solly Workman for providing brush hogs; Russell Dunbrack for hauling away trash; Bee Rose for providing wire cutters and Greg Hamons of the Extension Service, who sprayed herbicide.
Taylor's husband, Robert, attended high school with three black students and looks forward to greeting his classmates when they arrive for a May 28 reunion of the Class of 1961: Reverend Bernie Bolden is a minister in the Roanoke area; Barbara Bolden is a nurse in Arizona and Bobby Jackson is a manager and pianist in the Charleston area.
"I'm hoping to be able to get some more history from them if they get in here for the weekend," Ruth said. "I email Barbara and ask her questions occasionally and she hasn't been around here for a long time and she tries to remember as much of it as she can."
Pastor Kerry Workman, of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Hillsboro, said the church needs to do a better job of maintaining the cemetery. She said the trustees of Levelton United Methodist Church, including Don Sharp and Hubert and Jerry Puffenbarger had prime responsibility for the upkeep of Pleasant Green church and cemetery grounds.