Cemeteries. Every city has one. They are mysterious, historic, haunting and, to me, fascinating. I developed a fondness for cemeteries as a boy.
Now whenever I’m out of town, I always make it a point to visit a cemetery. To me, they are better than any mountain range, skyline or other popular tourist attraction. They are hidden treasures containing a wealth of information about communities and the people who lived there.
Chances are you have visited a cemetery at some time in your life to pay your respects to a family member or friend, and perhaps you too appreciate the stories represented among the tombstones and monuments.
My travels take me to all over the South and Midwest – and sometimes further North – so I have decided to start documenting my cemetery visits with a series of photos in a Sunday feature.
This week’s cemetery is Smock’s Chapel Mission Cemetery in Marion County, KY. I happened to be traveling back to Louisville, KY by way of Lebanon, KY when I spotted this gem of a one-room chapel and ajoining cemetery which is a stone’s throw from the famous Motherhouse of Sister’s of Loretto, KY.
Before diving into this week’s column, I reached out to my friend Donna Mattingly, who I consider an expert on local history in these parts of Kentucky. As expected, she sent me a trove of information about the church and cemetery faster than I was able to prepare a cup of herbal tea! (She’s amazing!) Here’s what Donna had to say:
Local historian Gerald Thompson says the full name of this church is Smock’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South. The founding families of this church are still evident in the gravestones there. Among them were the families of Smock, Peterson, Gardiner, Buckler, Davis, VanCleave and Peake. The congregation was about 200 members strong at the turn of the 19th century into the first decade of the 1900s, with about 200 members.
Thompson took an inventory of the stones in 1974 and at that time he counted about 225 and surmised there were likely more than twice that number buried there with no stones evident to mark their final resting places. At the time, the stone with the earliest death date was that of Celia (Buckler) Burks Smock, 1794 – 9 July 1833, daughter of Robert Buckler and Ann “Nancy” Goodrum Bullock Buckler. (Incidentally, Goodrum and Buckler happen to be some of my great-grandparents!)
The congregation disbanded in the mid-1970’s. In its early years, though, the same “Circuit Riders” serviced Smock’s Chapel as well as two other churches of the same denomination in Western Marion County, namely St. Thomas Meeting House and the Raywick Methodist Church, known today as Highview Methodist.
The founding members of Smock’s Chapel were from Maryland and Virginia and arrived in the area as early as 1870 or so. Many of those people had Dutch roots extending from the colonies of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and many belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, according to Thompson.
There are still occasional burials at Smock’s Chapel, and there are a few families who try to keep up the cemetery and church these days.
Thanks again to Donna Mattingly for her valuable insight into this hidden Kentucky treasure.
Until next time….