For this exploration of orphaned graveyards I’m leaving Greenville County and heading to Greenwood County, specifically to the Cambridge and Epworth regions of the county. The two graveyards are no longer connected to extant churches, but are closely connected to our family’s history. Mount Hermon (Herman?) Baptist Church is the burial place for my great-grandparents, and Fellowship Baptist Cemetery has the grave of my great-great-grandparents.
One of these cemeteries I had visited twice before. The other was heretofore unknown to me. Last Thursday the weather had finally cleared so I jumped at the chance to get out and head down toward Ninety Six to see if I could find these again and see what else I could learn about my ancestors’ final resting places.
My route took my down through Laurens County and past areas I had known growing up. It was so tempting to get distracted by side explorations but I did have some specific targets. Regardless, it was interesting to see how things had changed over the years. Greenwood Lake had grown up and looked as uninviting as ever. The nostalgia really set in when I made the left turn at Cornaca toward Ninety Six. I had memories of those times as a young child that we made the trip toward my grandmother’s house.
Mount Herman Baptist Church
I drove through the town without pausing and headed on down Highway 246. I was searching for the graves of my great-grandparents, John Lafayette and Elizabeth Dorn Smith. My cousin Brent had made a similar trek some years back and had alerted me to the location of their graves. I had found the cemetery in Find-a-Grave but had never made an attempt to visit.
GNIS data listed this cemetery as “Cooper Church.” Google Earth showed that it was located on the edge of a pasture with no church nearby. It was unclear from the images whether or not the cemetery was accessible, but I was going to make an attempt.
At the GPS coordinates I found a steep road leading up a hill to the cemetery. I parked my car at the Y intersection next to the road and walked over to it. The road lead up to a clearing with the cemetery toward the back. The area was separated from the pasture by a fence. The pastoral setting of the cemetery was lovely.
I found my great-grandparents graves to the right of the cemetery, somewhat separate from the bulk of the graves. A limb had fallen dangerously close to the headstone, but it was otherwise in excellent shape and looked much more modern than I expected.
I don’t have much information about my great-grandparents. I do have this photo of the Smith family. My grandmother is on the second row, third from the left.
I also have a photo of John Lafayette Smith’s funeral, as well as his obituary. I was not able to find similar pictures for Bettie Ann Smith.
The phrases “well-known” and “highly esteemed” caught my attention. If he was that well-known then there must be more information about him. I was able to find lots of references to either “J. L. Smith” or “Mrs. J. L. Smith” in the social columns of the Greenwood papers. I find it interesting that they preferred to use initials. Usually these articles took the form of so-and-so visiting someone. My grandparents and even my mother figures into these articles.
Next to the graves of my great-grandparents was the grave of Martha Emma Smith Bryan, their daughter and my great-aunt. It doesn’t appear that her husband, Rufus Lafayette Bryan, is buried here. (“Lafayette” must have been a popular name.)
The other graves appeared to be older. At least one Confederate soldier was buried here. Wrought iron fencing enclosed a part of the cemetery.
As I explored the cemetery a man with his young son rode up on a four-wheeler. It was obvious that they had spotted my car and were just making sure that I wasn’t doing anything untoward. I pointed out my great-grandparents and they were cool with me being there. I’m actually glad that someone is keeping watch over the area. I told him that as much as I was enjoying learning about ancestors, I was also enjoying the spectacular view of the surrounding farmland.
But what of the church? I had questions – when did it start? When did it end? What was its real name? To find these answers I’d have to do some real digging.
The first problem was the issue of the name. “Mount Hermon” is the correct Biblical spelling and that’s how it’s listed in Find-a-Grave. However, just about every article I came across had it spelled as “Herman.” Greenwood County records are just as confusing. The county GIS maps show the land belonging to “Mount Herman”…
…yet links to the plat show it spelled as “Mount Hermon.”
On this plat my great-uncle Cap Smith’s name appears, son of John Lafayette. The county GIS service also links to a 1910 deed for the land. The form is printed, but the pertinent information is hand-written. Just as a quirk of the handwriting it sometimes the name looks like “Herman” and others it looks like “Hermon.”
This is the earliest official document I could find for the church, although there are graves in the cemetery that predate the deed. The earliest one on Find-a-Grave is from 1855 but it doesn’t show a headstone. Headstones from 1903 and 1906 are present.
Then there’s the issue of “Cooper Church” that appears in the GNIS data. I could find no news articles or documents using this name, but it does show up on maps as such. This 1938 SCDOT county road map uses that name.
There are three Coopers buried here, and they are the earliest interments I could find. There was Franklin Vincent Cooper, his wife Elizabeth Jane Johnston Cooper, and their infant daughter, Carrie. Franklin Cooper fought for the Confederacy and his Find-a-Grave listing includes a letter from the battlefront home.
Cooper’s name does not appear on the aforementioned deed, so it doesn’t look like the church was built on his land. His 1903 obituary in the Greenwood Index-Journal does gives some clues about the church, though.
It would seem that the “Cooper Church” name stems more from the prominence of the family than from ownership. The obituary states that, “He was buried at the new church near old Sister Springs by the Confederate survivors.” I also found it interesting that, “He was a farmer by profession and very successful until embarrassed by results of the war.” I did find a 1941 “Our Old Roads” article about the Cooper Family in the Greenwood Index-Journal. It would seem to indicate that the Sister Springs Baptist Church was the predecessor to Mount Herman and was located on Cooper land. The article says that Sister Springs “became extinct” sometime prior to 1890.
Research into the church was further complicated by the existence of another Mount Hermon, an African American church in the Troy Community of Greenwood County. This church is still active. However, I was able to find other news articles that did reference either Mount Hermon or Mount Herman for the correct church. This was a Baptist church by the accounts I found, but was a small, struggling congregation. Most of these were announcements for special services and revivals.
By 1937 the church could no longer support itself and went into receivership. The church building and property were auctioned off.
According to this article the church property seems to have bordered on land owned by my great-grandfather. Regardless, that seems to be the last of Mt. Herman/Cooper Church. I found no more references to it, except as a cemetery. I have no idea what happened to the church building. Even so, burials continued in the cemetery up until 1971.
Up next, I visit another orphaned graveyard with an equally problematic name – Fellowship Baptist Church. Continue on to the next page…