HERNANDO — Spring Hill Cemetery was recently named to the National Register of Historical sites and officials are discussing how to continue with improvements to the grounds.
“Your oaks are going to be Southern red and blackjack oaks,” said Chad Pope, an ecologist with the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs.
He recently went through a plant “checklist” with archaeologist Mary Starr of Sledge.
“We need your advice on appropriate native species for this cemetery,” Starr had told Pope.
Now, with community activist Tom Ferguson, she brought up everything from the right trees, shrubs, flowers and even grasses that your circa-1836 cemetery and public gathering place would have had in the North Mississippi of pioneer days.
It’s another day of re-birthing at Springhill, which is finally getting a new lease on life. The antebellum cemetery was one of four Mississippi sites added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The community-driven revival has brought the park-like location back from cattle-chewing, kudzu-choking oblivion.
“Very literally, that cemetery was forgotten by recent generations — in the 1980s there were cows grazing among the toppled tombstones,” Mayor Chip Johnson said. “Now, as a registered historic place, that sort of travesty will never happen again at Springhill. It’s important that we preserve our history.”
The five-acre cemetery, west of the town square on U.S. 51, was established 176 years ago, just after the Chickasaw tribe ceded its lands.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History says it’s the only major remaining feature related to the founding of Hernando. It was the public burial ground for all residents, free and slave, until churches and other groups started other cemeteries.
Hernando’s first mayor, Andrew Satterfield, and the family of the first sheriff, Culberson Payne, as well as many other early city and county officials, judges, merchants and doctors are buried in Springhill.
Thomas Nelson, a freedman born in 1799, died in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic that nearly destroyed the community; another prominent freedman, Armistead Thompson, was trained as a blacksmith and became one of the area’s first African-American merchants.
Johnson said he’s especially proud that it was a grass-roots effort that saved Hernando’s cemetery.
“Government doesn’t do it all. Sometimes it just takes people to get things done,” he said.
The mayor especially lauded Ferguson.
“We wouldn’t be where we are if wasn’t for Tom,” Johnson said. “He’s clawed and scratched to raise funds and call attention to the cemetery’s significance.”
“I just got it started,” said Ferguson, a Pinnacle airlines pilot whose father, N.C. Ferguson, a former Hernando alderman, was the last person buried in Springhill, in 2006. The sad condition of the site inspired Tom Ferguson to act.
He helped launch a Friends of Springhill Memorial Gardens and Cemetery support group, brought in expert interpreters such as Starr, enlisted musician Jimbo Mathis for fundraisers — and on Dec. 15 of last year a state historical marker was unveiled at the cemetery.
The plaque is just south of the ornate metal gate fashioned and erected by students at Northwest Mississippi Community College, on tidy grounds now sprouting new trees and flowers planted by the DeSoto Civic Garden Club and others. The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service assisted with clearing kudzu; the city sends crews to mow and trim the grounds.
“I think we’ve made quite an accomplishment,” Ferguson said. “I can’t believe we got this far.”