Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 31

Cemetery Island: The
Undulating Land Form
in North Georgia's
Lake Chatuge
When the Tennessee Valley Authority
inundated the land near Hiawassee in
1941, some relatives came to rescue buried
remains of relatives from land that would
become an island; and some did not.
by Joe Tennis
Jerry Taylor steps onto Cemetery Island
with a grin, ready to tell who's been
moved and who's been left behind.
Like Sheriff Rufus Pinson Burch,
who was buried here and never
moved-even when the mass exodus from this cemetery occurred in
1941.
"This set of Burches didn't want
to be moved," says Taylor, the historian of Towns County, Georgia.
"And some of the descendants
are trying to figure out who's who
and put stones up to the ones who
didn't get moved."
Taylor's ancestors, the Burches,
once owned this land in Towns
County and rank among the first
people to be buried here in the mid1800s.
"And then, through the years,
neighbors and others were buried
here," Taylor says. "It was quite a
cemetery. Probably, like 350 graves
or so-maybe a little bit more."
Then came the construction of
Lake Chatuge in 1941 by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) at
Hiawassee, Georgia.
"Lots of cemeteries were moved
by the TVA-in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee," Taylor says.
Since building Lake Chatuge
would leave this hilltop cemetery

Historian Jerry Taylor smiles as he conducts gravesite tours of Cemetery Island
on Lake Chatuge in Georgia.

surrounded by water, Taylor says,
about 300 graves were moved.
Relocating all those remains,
however, would leave behind eerie
indentations in the leafy woods of
Cemetery Island-a place where, today, you can actually stand in spots
once containing caskets.
"When you see little indentations, without any rocks or anything, that's where graves have been
moved," Taylor says.
In all, Taylor says, about two dozen people remain buried on the 15acre isle, surrounded by the pictureperfect waters of Lake Chatuge.
"It is actually an island-totally
enclosed," says Michael Kennedy,
the manager of the marina at The
Ridges on Lake Chatuge. "It's an unknown thing."
Or, at least, as Kennedy figures,
few pontoon-boat drivers, casual
cruisers or swimmers would know
that there remains a graveyard here,
where the land rises about 25 feet
above the lake's surface.
And even fewer, to be sure,
would know the chilling stories behind the removal, as conducted by
hired hands like Jerry Taylor's uncle,
Homer Taylor, in 1941.
"He said their instructions were
to, 'Dig down and if there was

hardly any evidence of anything,
get the dirt that was black. Get
buttons. Get bone fragments. Get
fragments of clothing. Get whatever was identifiable,'" Taylor says.
"And they put it in boxes, and they
moved that."
Among the finds: One man's
body was "petrified" from the waist
up, Taylor says. "He was well-preserved. He was stone."
Taylor's grandfather, in turn, had
his mother moved, just eight years
after she died in 1933. But he strictly
did not want to see anything dug
out of the ground.
"Lots of people would look at
what they found," Taylor says. "But
he said he wouldn't."
The late Canary McConnell, also,
got back his leg-the one he lost
during a sawmill accident. McConnell had that leg buried, Taylor says.
"So when they moved the cemetery, he went down like everybody
else was going down to have their
relatives moved. And he went down
to have his leg moved."
Along the way, Taylor says, McConnell filled out the necessary paperwork.
"And it asks the question, 'What
is your relationship to the deceased?'
And his relationship was 'Owner.'" 

January/Februrary 2018 31



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