Elder Cemetery in Forkland is one of oldest in Boyle and Casey

Published 6:55 pm Friday, April 19, 2019

Editor’s note: Shirley Sheperson of Danville did the research for this article and Pat Williams of Forkland provided the photographs.

FORKLAND — Elder Cemetery on Ky. 243 in Casey County is one of the oldest cemeteries in the Forkland community of Boyle and Casey counties.

Since it was established in about 1850, more than 1,000 burials have been added to the cemetery on the hill overlooking the community.

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It was established by Andrew Elder (1789-1866) who was living there in 1830. A deed recorded in the Casey County Courthouse shows Elder deeded half an acre of land for the cemetery for Elder heirs, and since then the size has increased multiple times.

Nearly 1,000 people who had family connections in the community are buried in the cemetery.

The earliest marked graves are two infants — James Spragens (Nov. 8, 1849 – Aug. 30, 1850) and William W. Elder (Sept. 26, 1862 – Sept. 22, 1863).

A large walled-in area is a mystery as to who is buried there. One theory is it is a mass grave for Civil War soldiers, who may have been in the Battle of Perryville in October 1862.

A stone wall around a plot in Elder Cemetery is a mystery. Photo courtesy of Pat Williams of Forkland

William H. Elder’s tombstone has information about his death. He was born in 1838 and died in 1863. He was wounded at Vicksburg May 26, 1863, when making a charge on the Fort. He died in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 28, 1863. His body was returned by train from St. Louis to Forkland for burial.

Community involved

During the 40 years after the cemetery was established, the Elder family took care of burials and maintained the small cemetery. Later, it was opened to the community and more land was needed.

In the 1920s, R.T. Ellis sold a strip of land on the southwest side of the cemetery. He also donated a strip of land between the cemetery and D.C. May’s property.

Lucien Rogers sold land to the cemetery for $250 on the south side.

Land also was donated by Janie Drye and Billy Woodrum. Jim Cherry’s estate included land for the grounds and his niece and nephew Barbara and Jim Roller gave additional land.

R.T. Ellis, Clyde Overstreet and Isaac Ellis maintained the cemetery for many years. Darrell Ellis also worked on maintenance by straightening stones, mowing, keeping records and helping to select grave sites for families. He determined more than 80 graves were unmarked.

A road around the cemetery was built with equipment loaned by Allen Ellis. Jeep Gorley cleared bushes and trees.

A covered shed with benches was added to the cemetery in the late 1920s. Dave Brewer was in charge of the project.

Families gathered annually at the cemetery in May for many years to clean the grounds and share a picnic lunch under the shed. However, it was decided in the late 1920s that visiting and picnicking was disrespectful to the dead and the shed was razed.

Board formed

A trust fund was set up in 1974 and Isaac Ellis, Clyde Overstreet, Bill Lane, Darrell Ellis and Ada Lanham were named to a board to manage the cemetery business.

Matthew Ellis is the current chairman and Lettie Hart is secretary and treasurer. Three seats are vacant.

A tombstone for Andrew Elder shows he died 153 years ago. Photo courtesy of Pat Williams of Forkland

Rules for burials are: The cemetery lots are for Forkland families and their descendants at no charge for the lots; each grave is to have cornerstones and a tombstone purchased and installed by the family; and a board member must be contacted with selecting a gravesite.

The cemetery is funded by donations, which cover maintaining the road and grounds, fencing and purchasing more land.

Book lists burials

“The Forgotten Past,” a listing of burials and information from 750 gravesites in Elder Cemetery and 81 other family cemeteries in the Forkland community was published in 1974.

Darrell Ellis, Shirley Sheperson and Doris Purdom compiled the information. The book has been reprinted three times and the next edition with an additional 100 new graves will be available soon.