Bethlehem Cemetery

It's easy to miss Bethlehem Cemetery. It is almost lost in the middle of one of the largest subdivisions in Alpharetta. Overgrown and largely unkempt, it is still well worth a visit.

I think that it is fair to say that I am a little bit obsessed with cemeteries .Whenever I travel I will try and seek out a local cemetery to explore. Cemeteries can tell you so much about the history of a town and its past residents . I  have my favorites:  Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens and Bethlehem Cemetery right here in Alpharetta.

All three of these cemeteries are the final resting place of people who have made an impact on Georgia history, some in a big way and some in a smaller way,  but an impact nonetheless.

We moved to the Windward subdivision in Alpharetta in the early summer. It wasn't until the autumn, when the leaves started to drop, that I noticed Bethlehem cemetery. It is nestled among the trees in one of the biggest subdivisions in Alpharetta. For most of the year it is completely hidden from view until the fall comes and reveals the headstones. The church that used to serve the cemetery is long gone and only the gravestones remain, seventy- four of them. Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church stood somewhere nearby but all records of the church seem to have disappeared around 1928. Bethlehem MEC was one of 4 churches that served this area. Most congregations could only afford a preacher once a month so the locals would travel between these four churches. The names etched on the stones are familiar to many of us: Webb, Shirley, Douglas, McGinnis. These founding families left their mark on modern day Alpharetta. Chances are that if you drive anywhere near  Windward you will travel on a road bearing one of these names.

Maud Cunningham was born in Georgia, her parents moving from South Carolina sometime in the mid 1800's. She married a local farmer, George Jackson and settled with her new husband in Alpharetta. Maud and George were laid to rest in Bethlehem along with 4 of their infant children. At least thirty of the graves in Bethlehem hold the remains of children under the age of five. The 1860 census for this area documents a high mortality rate for children, especially newborns. Many of them died from dysentery, typhoid and malarial fever.

At least one of the graves holds the remain of a confederate soldier.  S.D. Tribble enlisted in 1862 in the 36th GA Regt when he was 20 years old. He was present at the surrender of Vicksburg, MS on Jul 4th 1863. Under the terms of the surrender Tribble was paroled with the rest of his regiment with the understanding that they would not take up arms against the Union. The Union Army, under General Grant were not interested in taking war prisoners, their objective being the City of Vicksburg and control of the Mississippi River. However the Regiment would join up with the Army of Tennessee and continue to fight. The 36th Georgia Regiment eventually consolidated with the 56th Georgia Regiment. Tribble was present at the surrender of the confederate forces of  Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina to General Sherman near Durham, North Carolina on April 26th 1865.  Life was not kind to Tribble after the war. In ill health and with failing eyesight,  he fell on tough times.  In researching his story I found his application for a civil war pension. Barely able to write, his doctor stated that he survived by relying on the kindness of his neighbors.  He applied 4 times but it seems he was never to receive a pension. S.D Tribble was interred in Bethlehem Cemetery in 1914 at the age of 74.

If you want to visit Bethlehem, there is a small parking area adjacent to the cemetery at the corner of Clubhouse Drive and Lake Shore Overlook.

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Travis Allen August 27, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Great article, thanks Fiona!
Fiona Bagley August 27, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Thanks Travis, I was particularly interested in Tribble as my husband is from Vicksburg and we have visited the military park there often. Interestingly Vicksburg residents did not officially celebrate Jul 4th until some 80 years after the siege and surrender of their city which occurred on the 4th.


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