An overgrown cemetery housing the remains of former slaves sprawls across three wooded acres behind Dillard’s Music Park on Calhoun Road.
Zuber Cemetery was bought by free blacks in 1903 and continued to be the resting place of Floyd County African Americans until it was lost, then found again about a decade ago. On Aug. 25, descendants of local families will gather to unveil a plaque to mark its historic significance.
“There are a lot of people in Rome whose family members are buried there,” said Solomon F. Boone Jr., whose great-uncle was one of the original purchasers of the plot. “We estimate as many as 500 graves, marked and unmarked. If you go back into the woods you can see the depressions in the ground, one after the other.”
A partial list of names is growing on a new website, ZuberCemetery.com.
The public ceremony is slated for sometime between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m., at the end of an annual community clean-up.
Berry College students, faculty and staff have been helping reclaim and restore the site as part of their traditional First-Year Service Day. They’re slated to start at 9 a.m. and spend about three hours working. However, Boone said the teams often have trouble finding the grounds, which are accessible off Willow Road.
Beverley Boone Meek, the sister of Solomon Boone, said they’re hoping the plaque and public ceremony will bring attention to the cemetery.
“This is a treasure of Northwest Georgia, and we’re just now finding our way to make this something valuable to the larger community,” Meek said. “We know how to clear brush. We can get rid of that, get rid of the weeds. Now we’re reaching out to preservationists in hopes of getting it designated a National Historic Site.”
Solomon and Meek are the children of Dora Watters Boone, who was buried in Zuber Cemetery in 2014 after leading the push to rehabilitate and memorialize the forgotten site. Dora Boone’s grandmother, Patsy Watters, is one of the slaves on Col. Joseph Watters’ nearby plantation, Hermitage, who was laid to rest there as well.
Working with Boone and Meek to uncover the history of the area is Ellen Watters Sullivan, a descendant of Col. Watters.
“The story of Northwest Georgia, indeed of America, is not complete without the story of those who were enslaved here,” Watters said. “They are buried in this ground and should be given proper recognition and dignity … It is an honor to be included in the effort to restore this historical, sacred place.”
The cemetery, which was likely connected to the long-gone Mount Sinai Church, is near Rush Chapel Church Cemetery, another African American burial site the group says is in need of preservation. Col. Watters was a co-founder of Rush Chapel in the early 1800s.
Solomon said they’ve discovered Zuber Cemetery was a burial site long before church deacons Frank and Richard Dozier, Carter Bell, Ed Watters and Henry Zuber chipped in to buy the land. But there’s so much more to find out.
“There’s at least one tombstone that dates to 1884, but some of them are worn and not many people back then could afford headstones anyway,” he said.
Watters, Meek and Solomon are scheduled to present some of their research at the plaque unveiling ceremony.