Press "Enter" to skip to content

Flowers for Sylvester Cemetery

By Nancy Leighton
Spring gardening season is here and people will be digging, weeding, planting, and dividing flowers in their gardens. Sylvester Cemetery is getting ready to welcome many visitors in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta. The Sylvester Cemetery foundation would like to beautify the cemetery for this occasion. They are asking neighbors in the Porch Press area to donate any extra plants and flowers when dividing and thinning this season.
The history of what is now called Sylvester Cemetery began as the Terry family burying ground, going back to the 1830s. The earliest marked grave is dated October 1838. It was located on a hill within one quarter mile of the Terry family home and above the Terry family mills on a pond created by a dam on Sugar Creek. Over the years various members of the Terry family, friends and neighbors from the community were buried in the graveyard. Civil War soldiers and veterans are also buried there.
In 1872, 16 year-old Sylvester Terry died. Sylvester’s mother Mary Jane Terry was so heartbroken by her son’s death that she refused to allow him to be buried with the others. She insisted that his grave be close to the house where she could see it from her bedroom window. It was several years before her family could convince her that the mourning period had lasted long enough and young Sylvester’s coffin should be moved to be with the rest of the family. After the reburial the graveyard began to be called Sylvester’s Cemetery.
In 1874 Mrs. Terry sold an acre of land to the Methodist Episcopal Church South, asking that the building be named after Sylvester.  The Missionary Baptist Church bought property across the street and in 1887 the church they built was called the Sylvester Baptist Church. Even though the church and the cemetery were not legally connected the two were a center of community life through the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Burials of both prominent and ordinary people from East Atlanta and surrounding areas continued throughout that time period. The church closed in 1970; but by then, the cemetery had become an impenetrable thicket of over grown trees and brush covered by a tangle of vines.
In 2002 neighbors decided something needed to be done to correct the eyesore the cemetery had become. Historian Larry Felton Johnson started a blog about the cemetery and soon meetings were called with other interested neighbors to solve the problem. A volunteer work day was called, but cold winter weather discouraged volunteers from coming.  So, with the help of Allen Oakes, Jerry Semprevio, Dennis Taylor and others they formed the Sylvester Cemetery Foundation as a 501(c) 13 (non-profit) organization in order to get tax deductible donations, apply for grants, and get help from corporate sponsors.
With a plan in hand for tree removal, the group was able to get help from Hands On Atlanta volunteers several times a year. They got tools from the Atlanta ToolBank; they got tree removal companies to send their workers and equipment; they hired day laborers and asked for favors from anyone and everyone.
After years of clearing, a new spring season came to the old cemetery in the forest. It was amazing to see daffodils and other beautiful flowers come up and bloom as these bulbs had struggled for years to stay alive under the tangled mess of vines and leaf litter. Yet, they managed to come up again to greet the spring sun.
Now the Sylvester Cemetery Foundation is looking for additional flowers to spruce up the grounds for this year’s celebration of the Battle of Atlanta. They will gladly accept gifts of divided plants, helleborus or hostas, daffodils, irises, day lilies or any other kind of lily, miniature bulbs, such as miscari, star flower, crocus, blue bells and liriope.
Dennis Taylor is now the President of the Sylvester Cemetery foundation. His phone number is 404-381-0243. Jerry Semprevio is the Treasurer; his number is 404-210-7312. You can call them when you get read to dig and make arrangements for them to pick up the plants. They will be accepting plants all spring, throughout the summer and into the fall. For more information, visit the websites or

Comments are closed.

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.