By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
The little headstone was put in place. It looked forlorn on the windswept terrain, but somehow in spite of the lonesome location there was a peace about the place.
The rough hewn, hand-carved inscription reads “Idella Johnson (1894-1895).” It was probably the hardest thing that her parents had ever done – leaving their precious baby there in a strange place while they pushed on toward the west. Local legend has it that they buried her here because it was the nearest cemetery to the road on which they were traveling.
The Baileyton Cemetery holds many such tragic stories. The earliest graves date in the late 1800s, the oldest marked grave bears the name of Oscar Burden (1886). He was the infant son of L.W. and A.P. Burden. Three of their other children are buried nearby in graves predating 1900.
Some graves bear no markings at all. Others are faded and worn. All belonged to someone who was once loved, cherished and later mourned.
In Paul C. Bailey’s history of Baileyton, titled “The Town of Baileyton, Alabama; Then and Now” he writes, "The town was homesteaded after the Civil War by settlers from Georgia and Tennessee through land grants and the purchase of land from the L & N Railroad."
Sometime around 1870, Robert B. Bailey, a Civil War veteran, moved his family from Oneonta to this part of the country which was then in Blount County, but became a part of Cullman County in 1877. The family homesteaded property through a land purchase deed dated 1870. In 1881, Robert Bailey started the Baileyton Methodist Church (now the United Methodist Church) in his home. Later, it was moved to his cotton gin and finally into a one-room school house.
The town of Baileyton was named for Bailey and his wife, Mary Ford Bailey. They died before the Baileyton Cemetery was begun, and were laid to rest in the old Summit Cemetery, located just west of Highway 231, about 10 miles south of Arab.
By 1882, the little town had its own post office, aptly named Baileyton, in honor of its leading citizen. Its first postmaster was John R. Tillery. It was situated in the town’s first general merchandise store, owned by Gilbert C. Cordell.
Shortly after the founding of the town, it was necessary to begin a cemetery. That would have been in 1886, according to Bailey’s history.
The original deeds for the properties came from H.E. and Francis E. Martin of Cullman County, and W.H. and Mary Joe Ross of Marshall County in February of 1938. The deed from the Martins cost the city $100, and the deed from the Ross family was cited as costing them $50. There was a stipulation in the contract that allowed them to remove marketable timber within 30 days.
Now in its fifth generation, the names of some of the original settlers buried here are still familiar in this part of North Alabama. Bailey, Burden, Burks, Blackmon, Albritton, Cockrell, Elrod, Hendrix, Jones, Tipton, Allen, Lambert, Oliver, Hadley, Harris, Guthrie, McClarty, Walker, White, Martin, Pope and Heaton, among others, are chronicled on weathered headstones.
Headed by Dr. Paul C. Bailey, a committee was formed when the Baileyton Cemetery was incorporated in 1987, in order that perpetual care would be continued and maintained by an endowment fund. Today the Baileyton Cemetery Committee is headed by Donald VanZandt.
On Oct. 24, 2011, the Baileyton Cemetery was named to the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register by the Alabama Historical Commission. It is now one of only two historic cemeteries receiving this recognition in Cullman County and among 443 historic cemeteries statewide. The Cemetery Register Program's purpose is the documenting, registering, conserving and protecting of Alabama's historical cemeteries.
The effort to register the Baileyton Cemetery was led by Stan Bailey, a fifth generation descendant of Baileyton's namesake Robert B. Bailey, who is now a resident of Baileyton. "I felt it important for future generations of Baileyton residents to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices and contributions made by the original frontier families to this area and their descendants,” Bailey said.
“Registering the Baileyton Cemetery memorializes those families," he continued. “On Dec. 15, 2011, the Baileyton United Methodist Church, circa 1881, was named to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage by the Alabama Historical Commission, joining selected Alabama landmarks worthy of historical recognition and preservation. Historical markers will soon be placed at both the cemetery and the church commemorating their new historical designations.”
“The cemetery register is a prestigious listing of historic cemeteries in Alabama,” said Cemetery Program Coordinator for the State of Alabama Historical Register Lee Anne Wofford. “The AHC considers the notable historic cemeteries in this register to be particularly worthy of preservation and appreciation, and therefore deserving of this special recognition.”
For the past 85 years, on the second Sunday in May, “Decoration Sunday” has been observed on these hallowed grounds. Families gather here to honor their ancestors, placing floral tributes and American flags on the final resting place of those who have gone before.
The Baileyton Cemetery currently contains 355 marked graves, and seven unmarked, with an additional 125 available grave sites.
In 2009, the Bailey family erected a life-sized crucifix in the center of the cemetery to honor the original settlers and their descendants who are buried here.