Cemetery Sunday: Bradshaw Cemetery (aka Old Smyrna Church Cemetery), Towns Co., GA

The weather here has been relatively warm and sunny, so on a recent Sunday, we took the Jeep out to a cemetery described by our local Probate Judge, Lil Garrett, as the Bradshaw Cemetery.

There are two ways to get to this cemetery: the hard way and the harder way. When taken together, these two entrances form a loop from our home in Clayton (Rabun County) out Hwy. 76 toward Hiawassee, across Upper Hightower Road through Forest Service land (with the road name changing at least once), making a bridgeless crossing of the Tallulah River back into Rabun County, and then connecting with Hwy. 76 to get back home.

You can go in from either side and come back out the same way, but we opted to take the whole loop, beginning with the more difficult way in: Out Hwy. 76 to Upper Hightower Road, which gradually goes from a paved two-lane road into a one lane road before it hits dirt. The road tilts steeply upward just after the pavement ends, with gullies in the road at least three feet deep and sharp rock jutting up from the road bed. It continues in this manner for three or four miles, with narrow curves, sharp drop offs, and grades steep enough to have me holding my breath. We didn’t measure the mileage, but I do know that we were going at idle pace for at least thirty minutes before we found the road to the cemetery.

That road was thankfully short and relatively smooth. We parked at the end of it and walked the rest of the way in. You can see why from the picture below.

The recommended parking area for the cemetery.

That’s about a six foot drop, most of it within the first few feet (ending where the bottom roots are). Believe it or not, the road getting in was worse.

The walk from there to the cemetery was about a quarter mile, smooth and grassy with a steady but gentle slope upwards. This is one of the few places I’ve been in the local National Forests where you’re far enough out to not hear road noise.

The trail to the cemetery.

The cemetery is actually in two parts, one part of fifteen to twenty graves where the trail narrows and takes a sharp turn to the right up a ridge.

The lower cemetery section, showing only a portion of the grave sites.

The second part of the cemetery, containing another fifteen or twenty graves, is at the top of that ridge about sixty yards above the lower part. We didn’t make a full survey but did make pictures of the few inscribed stones.1

The upper cemetery section, showing only a portion of the grave sites.

The lower section contained only one inscribed marker, for the grave of J. B. Godard. The upper section’s inscribed markers were for Homer Welborn, H. W. Eller, Arthur Nicholson, Early D. Nicholson, Harrison Garrett, and Lexie Garrett.

J. B. Godard’s marker was probably the most interesting.

Sacred to the Memory of J. B. Godard was Born Sept. 18 A. D. 1818 and Departed this life by being murdered Jan. 17 A. D. 1887

Homer son of Mr. & Mrs. W. H. Welborn 1902 – 1903

H. W. Eller Born July 16, 1843 Died Apr. 11, 1908

Arthur Nicholson Born Dec. 4[?], 1896[?] Died Sept. 6[?], 1903 [or 1908]

Early D. Nicholson Born Jan. 30, 1901 Died Oct. 4, 1901

Harrison son of J. S. & Fidelia Garrett Sept. 9, 1906 Nov. 17, 1906
Sleep on sweet babe, and take thy rest
God called thee home, He thought it best.

Lexie dau. of J. S. & Fidelia Garrett Born Oct. 5, 1909 Died Mar. 5, 1911
Gone to her brother in Heaven

Arthur and Early were buried next to one another, as were Harrison and Lexie.

The trail sort of loops through the upper cemetery, if you look closely enough at the ground. We identified several graves marked only by uninscribed stones, and may have missed some of those. While not as overgrown as some burial grounds we’ve visited lately, there were enough laurels, trees, and undergrowth to obscure some of the graves from easy view.

As we were walking out, we noticed how smooth and relatively flat the land was. There were old fence lines still visible, some fallen, some not. The area around the cemetery may at one time have held a thriving homestead or two, in spite of the rugged trek in. We didn’t look around for building foundations, it being late in the day and a good hour’s drive home.

That drive took us out the hard way (as opposed to the harder way) through three or four successively wider creeks, none with bridges, interspersed by the same kind of narrow, deeply gullied roads found at the start of the loop. The last of those creeks was probably twenty feet wide and about two feet deep in the middle.

Crossing the last creek.

The final barrier was the Tallulah River, also a bridgeless crossing. While the water is shallow, the “road” angles to the right, making the crossing at least thirty to forty yards through the water. From there, the roads are good: wide and smooth with light gravel leading to paved two-lane roads, all the way back to Clayton.

Curiosity got the better of us when we got home. For one thing, we couldn’t figure out if the cemetery was in Towns or Rabun County. A look through Google maps didn’t really help, but Ted O. Brooke’s Towns County, Georgia Cemeteries (Wolfe Publishing, 1996) did. In a 2001 supplement taped to the inside of the book, Mr. Brooke gave directions to the cemetery along with information from the inscribed markers and contacts who might know more, and called it the Old Smyrna Church Cemetery.

We couldn’t figure out why Lil referred to it as the Bradshaw Cemetery, but it’s possible there are members of that family buried there. I did check the 1910 US census, and found Joseph and “Fidillie” Garrett with daughters Lassie and Lexie living in Tate City District and enumerated next to the Tryon and Rosetta Bradshaw household.2

I tracked down the Eller and Nicholson families as well, although I couldn’t find the Welborn family to whom Homer belonged.

The real puzzle was J. B. Godard. A James B. Goddard, a lawyer of a similar age, was enumerated with his younger wife, Eveline, in the Village of “Hiwassee” in 1880.3 Reasoning that the murder of an elderly lawyer might have made the news somewhere, I performed an Internet search and found an article published 24 January 1887 in The New York Times titled “Murder by a Moonshiner.” The article describes Mr. Goddard’s murder in detail, fingering a local moonshiner named J. C. Justice who believed Goddard was snooping around on his property in order to rat him out to the revenuers. Whether true or not, Goddard’s murder was brutal. If Mr. Justice survived to a trial, he most likely was sentenced to hang.

Regardless, we did not find an explanation as to why Mr. Goddard, who lived fairly distant from the cemetery, was buried there. Perhaps there was a church nearby that he and his wife attended. Or perhaps his wife was related to those who lived in that remote area.

If you wish to visit the cemetery, I advise going when the weather’s been dry and clear for at least a week. Use a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, and take emergency supplies with you, including sturdy walking shoes. Go early in the day and be prepared to walk out if you get stuck, because you can’t get a cell signal that far out. Good luck, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

* * * * *

1. Yes, the year is off in the date stamps. I did not discover that until after moving the pictures from the camera to my computer.

2. Joseph Garrett household, 1910 US census, Towns County, Georgia, 1081[?] Tate City Dist., population schedule, ED 147, SD 9, sheet 6B, dwelling 109, family 110; Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2006; citing NARA micropublication T624, roll 206.

3. James B. Goddard household, 1880 US census, Towns County, Georgia, Village of Hiwassee, population schedule, ED 174, SD 1, sheet 13, dwelling 110, family 118; Ancestry.com, 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010; citing Family History film 1254167 and NARA micropublication T9, roll 167.

9 Responses to “Cemetery Sunday: Bradshaw Cemetery (aka Old Smyrna Church Cemetery), Towns Co., GA”


  2. Thank you for your caring about local genealogy, your diligent research, and your wonderful website.

    I stumbled upon Bradshaw Cemetery (or Old Smyrna Church Cemetery) yesterday while Jeeping the Charlie’s Creek Road environs (off Upper Hightower Road). I just happen to enjoy old cemeteries very much, they drive my imagination wild, so it was a great find. After thoroughly investigating the area around the cemetery (ended up driving out in the dark), I couldn’t wait to get home to do a web search about it.

    Thank goodness for your website! – or I might have been left wondering about the cemetery forever.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Joe, and for the compliments as well. I’m glad someone has benefited from this post. I believe Ted Brooke’s cemetery book (on Towns County) contains more information on this cemetery, if you can find a copy.

      We’re big cemetery junkies and have planned some other excursions to the Charlie’s Creek area. Apparently, there are some other hard-to-reach cemeteries back there, which should surprise no one. The best finds are usually the ones that are hardest to get to!

      Once again, thanks for stopping by. Feel free to point out any interesting Jeeping sites!

  3. Just yesterday, my husband, daughter and I took two of our grandsons to see the smyrna cementary. HW Eller, or Hard Eller as he was called then, was my husband’s great, great Grandfather. The going is rough coming from Upper Hightower Side and the narrow road up to the cementary has pretty close limbs on both sides. The cementary at this time of year has a good bit of underbrush, so we weren’t able to see as many graves as you did. My husband has been there several times and grew up in this community, so he was able to point out many of the gravesites.

  4. Hardy Washington Eller was my great, great grandfather. My grandfather was John Ranzy Eller. I remember my dad (William Max Eller) telling me about riding over upper hightower road in a wagon carrying corn to his dad’s whiskey making site around the Plum Orchard area of Rabun County. I have been through all the way to river, but never found the grave site. My uncle (by marriage to Myrl Eller) said there was a church there there at one time that had stained glass windows that people salvaged and ran off with. Does anyone know who owns this land?


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