West Virginia is full of beautiful scenery, fields that stretch as far as the eye can see and fantastic bodies of water. However, there are also many places that time has almost forgotten. One such place is the Old Lebanon Cemetery. This area began as the home of a church. Particularly, it was home to one of five congregations of the Presbyterian Church, New Hope.
According to Tracey Smith, who has been working diligently to research and restore the cemetery for the past 12 years, this particular congregation broke ties with the Presbyterian church due to not agreeing with their politics. Because of this, they became known as the Succeeders.
Over the years, the church has gone by various names, including The Associated Church and The Reformed Church. Eventually, they took on the name they still retain…The Associated Reformed Church. While it does still exist, the church building no longer resides on the original property. The original church was built from logs, but the congregation later built a brick building. Smith said that some of the bricks and stones from that brick building were moved to the current church, which is located just off route 219.
According to Smith, this property was mentioned in one of the first deeds recorded in Monroe County as “the meeting house where two white oaks are called for” sometime around 1789. To her knowledge, no graves existed on this site until 1806. Smith said part of the land came from one family, the Nickells. The patriarch of the family as well as his four sons served in the Revolutionary War. For their service, they were given land, supposedly directly from George Washington. The Nickells along with another family are recorded as being some of the first elders in the church. Around 1819, a Nickell married a Patton. They unfortunately separated, but they did donate one and a half acres of land to the church for burial and other purposes, according to Smith’s research.
The land that was donated is now what is known as the Old Lebanon Cemetery. The cemetery resides in the middle of a 300-acre farm. Smith has documented close to 200 burial sites within the cemetery. She said that a gentleman that she got in contact with said the last known funeral held at the cemetery was in the 1930s. At the time, the gentleman was a child who lived nearby and watched the funeral procession. No tombstone was put up and Smith has been unable to identify who was buried that day.
Among those interred at the cemetery are five Civil War soldiers. According to Smith, it is rumored that one of the soldiers was buried with his sword and uniform. Since discovering the grave, Smith has restored the site to the best of her ability. Each grave has a unique story and Smith has been researching to discover those stories. She has come to learn a great deal about many of the residents of The Old Lebanon Cemetery.
Smith said she did not know this cemetery existed until after her mother’s passing. She said, “When my mother passed away in the late 90s, I got out her photo album and there was a photograph in there of a tombstone of my great, great grandparents and it was a tall, obelisk stone and it had all of this brush and trees and stuff growing right up around it and I thought, well I wonder where this is, she’s never taken me to this cemetery!” After extensive research and investigation, she was able to locate someone who knew where the cemetery was and how to get there.
Since discovering the cemetery, Smith has been making great strides to ensure the area is taken care of, restored and the memories kept alive. She said, “I’m trying not to let the community forget that this cemetery is there, that these people that are buried there came from Ireland, Germany, Scotland and they settled that area. If it weren’t for these people, the community wouldn’t exist.”
A tree stump remains on the property that has unfortunately deteriorated almost into non-existence. Smith believes that this was once one of the two white oaks mentioned in that original deed. After cutting the grass in the area, she discovered a hole where the second tree undoubtedly once stood.
Smith spends at least one day every week at the cemetery cutting grass and taking care of various things. She said over the years, various community members and descendants of the cemetery have helped in one way or another to get the site back into good repair and help maintain it.
A partial list of those buried in the cemetery is available from the West Virginia Cemetery Preservation Association Inc. To view the list, go to www.wvcpaweb.org/cemeteryregister/monroe/monroeoldmtleb. Directions to and coordinates for the cemetery are also available on the website.