In the early days of Decoration, graves were decorated with live flowers or ones made with crepe paper. Today, nearly all the flowers used are artificial.
Decoration was held in Hinton last Sunday at the outdoor Arbor, a tradition that’s been around for many years in the patch of Pickens County’s west end that lays claim to being one of the oldest sites of the Christian religion here, pre-dating the creation of the county itself.
“For the second Sunday every June for as long as I can remember Decoration and Homecoming have been going on here,” said Johnny Barnes. Barnes is a life-long resident of Hinton and a retired FFA teacher.
Decoration Day is an annual observance at many Southern country graveyards. Family members typically come out prior to Decoration Day to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family and honor the memories of their ancestors. Decorating relatives’ graves carries a great significance for many in the country churches, it’s a way to honor and remember loved ones once a year, every year.
One such lady, Sue Allred, was a the Hinton cemetery last week putting flowers on 13 graves, something she does each year for Decoration Day. Both of Allred’s parents and numerous cousins are buried in Hinton’s multi-denominational cemetery. “Just some small flowers for all the first cousins,” she said of the numerous arrangements she puts on the graves.
Sue’s cousin, Linda Allred, was also there. She said she promised her mother, Sola Mae Townsend Worley, before her death that she would always come take care of the graves, which include Linda’s grandfather and grandmother.
“Sue and I promised her that we would always do it,” she said. Linda grew up in the church at Antioch but returns to Hinton annually to keep up the graves.
“Hinton was in Gilmer County until 1853 when Pickens was established,” Barnes said. “But earlier, in 1837, the Methodist Church in Ellijay came down and organized the Ellijay Mission. The original location is in the corner of the cemetery. The log building burned and then in 1877 they built a new church at Carver Mill Rd. and stayed there until 1950 or 1951 when the current Hinton United Methodist opened.”
Many records were lost, Barnes said, when the parsonage burned in 1954, destroying all the church’s records.
Hinton United Methodist boasts the first female preacher in the entire northeast portion of the state. Mildred Jarvis served as pastor there during the late 30s or early 40s, Barnes said. “Jarvis lived to be about 100 and I got to visit her one time with my grandpa in Atlanta.”
The Hinton cemetery dates back a long time and Barnes said many of the early graves are marked with only rocks. He has found one grave dating to the 1770s.
While the original deeds for the church are made to the Ellijay Mission of the Methodist Church, the cemetery itself is deeded to the Methodist Church. Barnes said, however, that other denominations have always been allowed to be buried there.
There are five Confederate soldiers and one Union soldier buried there.
“The one Union soldier was a straggler that tried to steal a man’s mule. The man shot him and killed him but he put him up a nice grave. He also took the soldiers’ money and sent it to his family in Indiana.”
The exact origins of Decoration Day are unclear but at some point the warm months between May and September became the preferred season for Southerners to honor their ancestors.
Barnes said he remembers hearing that some ministers were accused of worshipping the dead with their Decoration Day services and that brought dissenion among the groups. But the tradition remained strong throughout the years, with the highest attendances probably just after World War II, he said.
Of course, some things have changed through the years. Back then, flowers were very different from those found on graves now.
“I can remember in the 40s there were no flower shops around here,” Barnes said. “We had Jackie’s (flower shop) in Ludville for decades. There was no grass on graves either. We didn’t have lawnmowers.”
Barnes said his great-grandmother was the only one he can remember having a lawn mower back then. “And it was one of those you push and pull, no motor.”
Back then, he said it would often take two weeks to prepare for Decoration.
“People would make arrangements out of fresh flowers or craft them from craft paper and put them in some cheap glass container or a fruit jar,” he said. “My grandmother Robinson would make hers with crepe paper and dip it in paraffin to weather-proof it. Every country store back then had two or three colors of crepe paper.”
For fresh flowers, people used magnolia blooms or the native daylilies or wild pink roses that bloom this time of year. There were very few bought flowers, though.
“Of course a few people had hydrangeas at home they would use,” he said. “No one uses fresh flowers anymore.”
Decoration is often followed by a church service called Homecoming.
“I remember church services prior to air conditioning. People would be standing by the windows or standing in the door at the back,” he said. “Preachers preached with a little more passion back then and people hung on every word.”
Today, attendance numbers for the church at Decorations, Homecomings and regular church services are falling, he said. “We don’t have many young people any more. We have a lot of gray heads,” he joked. “We don’t have enough folks (here) to have a choir anymore. If we pulled people from the congregation for the choir, we wouldn’t have anyone in the congregation.”
Hinton United Methodist meets every Sunday morning. Attendance now ranges from 25-40. They have Youth nights on Wednesdays and adult Bible study on Thursdays.
Noted Jasper preacher Charles Walker preached there a number of times.
“He preached one Homecoming and had 30 minutes to get ready,” Barnes said. “All of a sudden the scheduled preacher called me at 9 a.m. and said he had laryngitis. They found Walker at the nursing home doing his Sunday morning visits. He said, ‘What’s the problem. So I told him. He said he never had preached at the Arbor and he would do it.”
The Arbor is the church’s outdoor, open congregation site that was built 15 years before the current church, in the mid-30s.
“All the Thomason family sawed the lumber for it and my grandpa, E.L. Robinson, cut and hauled it to the lumber mill. All the carpenters of the community came in and constructed it.”
In the 50s and 60s there were four different quartets who often sang at the Hinton services: The Thomason Brothers Quartet, the Dean Quartet, the Darnell Family from Talking Rock and the Wes Evans Quartet.
While there isn’t a choir anymore, folks like Ronnie Payne and his family still come to the church for Decoration once a year.
“I don’t ever remember not coming and I’m 67 years old,” Payne said. “As long as I can remember I’ve been coming here. I live 61 miles away but at least every month or three weeks I come and mow the cemetery. I enjoy coming up here. I wouldn’t miss it. I’d have to be about dead to miss this every year.”
Payne said while he enjoys coming, he recognizes it “has fizzled out.” He said, “The newer generation people have better things to do than come up here. At least they think it’s better but it’s not.”
Along with the Payne side of his family, he is also related to the Nations who are buried at Hinton. And his young son who died at just four months old is also buried there.
“I dug his grave,” Payne said. “But I was a young man when I did that.”
Payne said a lot of people have been buried in the cemetery since he has been coming and, “if at all possible this is where I want to be buried.”
Each year for the past 25 years at Decoration, Payne makes around 20 wooden crosses and his daughter adorns them with flowers. Most are for family but some he places on graves who don’t seem to have anyone to help with their upkeep.