Cemetery rediscovered by kin, city agrees to help family

Friday, June 16, 2006
Smith's cousin Richard Sutton of Shelbyville went through a veteran's organization to obtain a headstone for John Riley Madison. Other family members purchased the rock for John's wife, Mary Manning Madison.

Marshall County was formed 170 years ago this year. The men who founded the county traveled its first roads and pathways in horse and buggy. They plowed its fields behind teams of mules. Some fought in the Civil War with the Confederate army. Some were good Christians and helped establish the churches that the current community cherishes today. Many lent a helping hand to their neighbors in need.

As Ms. Mary Emma Jett, great aunt to Ms. Nena Faye Smith, lay ill and bedridden during the early part of 1994, she passed her time sharing stories of a wonderful man named John Riley Madison, who happened to be Smith's great-great grandfather.

"She started to tell me of a small framed man who had a big, good heart," said Smith.

Jett said that her grandfather would stay with her brothers and sisters when their parents were away on special trips to Blue Creek just below Cornersville. He was a Confederate soldier, and in his latter years, he would be the one to bring the bucket and dipper to Sunday service at Bethberei Presbyterian Church so that the congregation would have water.

One of the last stories, Smith's great aunt told of her grandfather Madison was of the last weeks of his life. In April of 1909, Madison had gone to the aid of neighbor in need. The neighbor's wife was in labor and having complications. Madison made the trip through heavy rains. He tried to help the mother, but she and the baby did not survive. When he returned home, he was soaked to the bone.

Madison died a couple of weeks later. The Marshall County Tribune ran his obituary in the April 23, 1909 issue. It stated that he died 'Friday night after a brief illness caused from grippe'. Grippe in those days was the term for the equivalent of what is currently known as influenza. Madison died on April 16, 1909 and was buried the following day.

The Marshall County Gazette reported that Madison's funeral services were conducted by Rev. W. A. Zeigler and his burial followed at the Madison-Devin-Myers Cemetery, though Smith's aunt Jett recalls Dr. S. T. Hardison conducting the services.

Smith automatically became intrigued by the stories of her great-great grandfather and set out to find his burial site. She discovered the small patch of land that her great-aunt had described to her. It was just off of the Nashville Highway on top of a small hill. The grounds were unkempt. Weeds were growing up around the turn-of-the-century headstones and some of the posts that once created a fence around the cemetery were missing.

Smith was unable to find her great-great grandfather's grave, as it was unmarked. The Marshall County Book of Cemeteries did not even have Madison or his wife; Mary Manning Madison listed under the Myers-Devin-Madison Cemetery list, but a small comment appeared at the bottom noting 'many unmarked graves'. Smith was able to estimate where the couples' burial site was through her family's recollections.

"Their graves are at the left as you go into the cemetery. His son Wiley D. Madison and his wife are at the foot of John Riley Madison," said Smith.

Smith and her husband, Dean, set out to clean up the small cemetery. They erected a nice white board fence and created an entrance sign officially marking it as the Myers-Devin-Madison Cemetery.

In the spring of 2002, a cousin of Smith's named Ronnie Sutton of Shelbyville was able to obtain a headstone for John Riley Madison through a veteran's organization. Other cousins purchased a rock for Mary Manning Madison. A dedication ceremony was held on April 21, 2002 to honor the long deceased Private of Company B; 17 Tennessee Infantry.

The family has been working now for years trying to keep the cemetery in good condition, but during the spring and summer months the trek up the small hill becomes more and more of a problem. Privately owned property boarders the small plot designated for the cemetery on all sides. There is a 50-foot easement, which grants family members a legal path to the grounds from Highway 31A/Nashville Highway. It measures approximately 489 ft. from the junction of Nashville Highway and Old Farmington Road. Unfortunately, the path from the highway to the cemetery is difficult to reach by foot or vehicle. The steep incline is riddled with large rocks, ruts and a mass of tangled weeds.

The Smith's are currently working on trying to get a road constructed from the highway to the entrance of the cemetery. Lewisburg City Manager, Eddie Fuller has agreed that the city would be able to donate the gravel and pipe as long as the Smith's are able to secure someone who is willing to bring in a bulldozer to clear the path.

Smith has tried for quite some time to accomplish this task. Her family is unable to afford the work and would greatly appreciate anyone willing to donate his or her time.

"I know it says in the Bible to 'let the dead bury the dead', but it doesn't say you shouldn't pay your respects," said Smith.

For those interested in the project, please contact the Marshall Tribune at 359-1188 Ext. 23.