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Help sought with trail into cemetery

SoVaNow.com / October 10, 2013
One of Halifax’s oldest cemeteries is becoming increasingly inaccessible as the lone road leading into the site crumbles, and three churches have turned to Halifax Town Council for help.

Members of Banister Hill Baptist Church, Saint Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Christ Church have asked Halifax council members for assistance in improving the community cemetery located off of Gatha’s Trail near the Burlington Industries property. (All three predominantly African-American churches are located within Halifax town limits.)

The Current Issues Committee, headed by Bill Confroy, has set a meeting for Tuesday, October 15 at 6:45 p.m. at Banister Hill Baptist Church to discuss ways to stabilize the road into the historic old cemetery, which has been in use since the 1800s. “The cemetery is probably older than the Town of Halifax,” said Confroy.

Dr. William Carr, pastor of Banister Hill Baptist, said 90 to 95 percent of his deceased membership is buried at the cemetery, which takes up about four and a half acres of land at the end of Gatha’s Trail. The other two churches also maintain spaces in the cemetery. Dr. Carr added that some of the graves are unmarked, while other old headstones are unreadable.

Four families use the road daily, said Gatha Richardson, a resident of the trail. Usually there are four or five funerals there each month, he added.

Richardson said his grandfather donated the land for the cemetery to the churches back in the 1800s, a discovery he made while looking over records at the Halifax County Courthouse. For years, Richardson explained, families who live along the trail have tried to maintain its condition to preserve access to the burial ground.

There’s a sharp drop-off where one turns off the pavement and onto the trail, noted Stanley Jeffress, owner of Jeffress Funeral Home, who frequently drives the path to the cemetery. Driving conditions get much worse, he added, whenever it rains, snows or ices over.

Confroy and Carr note that drainage off the trail poses a major problem, echoing a point made by Richardson about the erosion to his yard and flooding of a neighbor’s basement during rainy periods. Carr said a family member of one of the residents on the trail voiced concerns about the flooding of her mother’s basement.

Confroy said he is looking at possible solutions to the problem, but notes the Town of Halifax has no road funds available. Rather, the Town has to look to the county for highway improvement money. He suggested there might be two other options for addressing the problem — converting a power line right-of-way as a alternative path to the cemetery, or cutting a back-door entrance from Banister Road where Burlington Industries once owned a number of houses. But Carr maintains that the best access to the cemetery is by using Gatha’s Trail.

“We have to find some source of funding to be able to upgrade the road to the cemetery,” Confroy said, noting that Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy has offered to try to get a representative from VDOT to come to the Tuesday evening meeting, hoping that he might offer some useful information.

“We really want to get something done on this matter,” Confroy said.

“We have some good partners in this — the churches, the residents, the funeral homes and the Town, and I think we will figure out some way to make it happen.”



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