JOHNS CREEK, GA – Johns Creek took a big step July 10 toward taking on responsibility for maintaining the former Macedonia African Methodist Church Cemetery.
The Johns Creek City Council concluded an agreement with Fulton County to accept the maintenance easement that allows the city to maintain the 2-acre property.
“I’m proud of the City Council for taking responsibility for an important part of the history of Johns Creek,” Councilman Lenny Zaprowski said at the council meeting.
But Mayor Mike Bodker spoke up to say Johns Creek is taking only the maintenance role of the cemetery. It cannot do more than that because there is no clear title to the property. The church dissolved many years ago and the cemetery remains in legal limbo.
“The acceptance of the maintenance easement gives us the right to clean up and maintain the cemetery, nothing more,” Bodker said.
With the acceptance of the easement, the city will now take over the care of Macedonia Cemetery until such time as ownership of the property can be established, said Assistant City Manager Jason Kirouac.
“Fulton County had not really been performing much maintenance at all over the past 10 years,” Kirouac said. “There has been a lot of rubbish and debris that has been deposited there in all that time.”
The city’s initial task will be to go in and begin regular mowing and just make sure it is properly maintained.
“On the front end, we are just going to concentrate on the vegetation and debris perspective. People have used that site for their lawn clippings and other rubbish,” he said. “There is a real need to get the site cleaned up.”
An inspection in late 2016 also showed signs of someone just squatting on the property in a rude shelter.
So while the city is getting the property in shape on the front end, it will require much more before there can be any restoration of the cemetery.
As near as local historians can tell, Macedonia African Methodist Church was given the property in 1867 by a white farmer George Morgan Waters to enslaved black Americans after they were emancipated.
The black community in Johns Creek dwindled over the first half of the 20th century and slowly became inactive.
The Macedonia Cemetery had been largely forgotten and overgrown until the 1990s when a developer sought to put commercial buildings on the site. Residents of adjoining St. Ives brought the cemetery’s existence to the attention of the Fulton County Commission.
Fulton commissioners then funded a 1996 Georgia Historic Resource Survey for its association with African-American ethnic heritage. Fulton denied the rezoning and assumed the care of the cemetery until 2006 when Johns Creek attained cityhood. Then, Fulton’s care became more sporadic.
A Georgia Department of Transportation archeologist completed a survey of the cemetery last year and identified some 53-plus graves and has identified 47 of the graves by name.
The last known activity of relatives comes from a headstone dated 1976.
Johns Creek estimates it will cost about $3,600 each year to maintain the property, and that funding will come from the city’s Public Works budget. Weather permitting, Kirouac expects crews to begin working “in the next few weeks.”
Any steps to fully restore the cemetery are stalled because it simply is not clear who has title to the property. For now, the city is concerned with stabilizing the property and ensuring there is no further damage to it or the gravesites.