In 1790, Peter Crawford was a pretty important figure in Columbia County. The county was formed that year, and Crawford became the county's first clerk of Inferior and Superior Courts. In 1830, he died in office as a state senator.
And Peter's son, George, is the only Georgia governor from Columbia County.
Today, however, unless you happen to be one of the many Crawfords living in this area, Peter Crawford is a forgotten man, buried beneath the oaks and brush of what was once his sprawling Bel Air Plantation.
But recently a trio of history-minded neighbors have begun cleaning up Crawford's long-neglected final resting-place, an overgrown lot in Maple Creek subdivision.
The one-fourth acre cemetery was a hidden bonus when genealogy buff Rebecca Brusnahan bought her Maple Creek home two years ago. It was so smothered in pines, oaks, hickories, bushes and weeds that a neighbor had to point out the low, rambling stone wall and two cracked headstones only a few paces from Brusnahan's back door.
"I thought it was cool." said Brusnahan, a teacher for the deaf at Dearing Elementary School.
Last year, while researching her Irish heritage, Brusnahan met Michael Bresnahan, who at the time was living in Oceanside, Calif., and operating a genealogy Web site. They fell in love, and got engaged.
In January, Michael moved in. By May, a significant amount of Crawford research had been done and the legal avenues were clear to begin the restoration project.
"It's part of where we all live," Bresnahan said in explaining his fascination with the Crawford cemetery.
Students of history, the couple has spent nearly 30 hours at the library researching the land, talking to local historians and Crawford descendants.
The Columbia County Historical Society had mentioned restoring the Crawford plot, but according to president Pat Hardaway, issues of land ownership have discouraged it.
"We didn't have the funds or the manpower, but we discussed cleaning up the cemetery," she said.
It turns out that what is now Rebecca and Michael's back yard was once part of a plantation that stretched from the Columbia Road area to Fort Gordon. Most of what now lies in the Crawford cemetery is a mystery.
A pieced-together stone wall - about two-feet high in most places, lower and crumbling in others - partially encloses the lot, which features more dirt and undergrowth than anything that is immediately identifiable as a grave.
The gray stone markers of Peter and his wife, Mary Ann Crawford, have been torn from a built-up brick structure and shattered. Large parts of Mary's once-ornate headstone are now hardly readable. Michael and Rebecca found parts of both stones scattered about the property. The brick structure that once supported them has also been broken down and is sinking into the ground.
No one really knows how many people are buried in the cemetery, although Bresnahan guesses it might be as many as 20, including slaves. Curious sinkholes are scattered about the lot, possibly marking locations where a weak, Revolutionary War-era casket has collapsed under the layers of dirt.
And to think that the couple paid only $10 for all of this excitement.
Apparently the former owner of the lot was thrilled to unload what he perceived as a useless property, what with those laws about not desecrating graves to build a house and everything.
"He didn't even want the $10," Bresnahan said. "I said, 'Here, go have lunch."'
With the help of neighbor Jeff Odom, Michael and Rebecca have already cleared away decades of overgrowth. The stone wall, which had been hard to see from a few feet away, is now visible from the road and the back porch.
Of course, like any desecrated gravesite, there are problems. "I had a perpetual case of poison ivy," Bresnahan says of the first clearing days.
Most of the poison ivy is gone and the new owners of the Crawford family cemetery are looking forward to all the work that still needs to be done. Over the next couple of years, they plan to restore both the wall and the Crawford headstones as faithfully as possible. And although it will be expensive, they hope to save enough money to bring in an archaeologist to investigate those sinkholes.
But Michael and Rebecca's biggest hope is that someday soon, the Crawford cemetery will overcome generations of neglect and become a place that the living residents of Maple Creek can enjoy.
"Our purpose is to restore it," Michael said. "Our whole goal is to have a restored park, a piece of the community."
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