Fair Prospect Cemetery

First, let me apologize for the unscheduled two week break.  My computer was acting up, and in the end I got a new PC and I'm running Windows 10, and everything seems to be going smoothly now.  Second, we're going to do a bit of a series with the two posts this week and the first post next week.  Today we're going to start with a hidden cemetery on a little bluff above US-331, but it's going to eventually lead to the birth of organized education in central Alabama.

In 1828 a twenty-three-year-old preacher from Georgia named William McGauhy came through central Alabama.  His evangelistic efforts ended with the establishment of the Fair Prospect Church, the oldest Restoration Movement church in the state, and one of the twelve original members was seventeen-year-old Mary Lumpkin.  Two years later Mary married Elkanah Barnes, and six years after that they had their first child, Justus McDuffie Barnes, better known as Mack.  By the time Mack was 11, he had two little sisters, and the Barnes family moved from their one room log cabin into a new plantation house.  Mary intended to name the home, and the community around it, after the Greek geographer Strabo.  Unfortunately, the postal service misread her letter, and so the new post office was named Strata.  In 1854, the Barnes family sent Mack to study at Bethany College, a liberal arts school in West Virginia founded by Alexander Campbell in 1840.  Mack finished his degree in only two years, and returned to his father's farm unsure of what to do next.  His father encouraged him to teach, and so in September 1856 Strata Academy was founded with thirteen students on the Barnes plantation.  We'll return to Strata Academy in our next post.

16th century engraving of Strabo (public domain)

The Fair Prospect Church was thriving in the 1850s, and they had established a cemetery adjacent to the building.  The oldest extant graves date back to 1851.  In 1870, the church building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  The congregation left the cemetery in place but started meeting in one of the new Strata Academy buildings a little less than two miles north on present-day US-331.  The Academy left the property in 1881 (we'll cover the reasons in our next post), and the old Fair Prospect congregation still meets to this day on that site as the Strata Church of Christ.

The Fair Prospect Cemetery is still in use as well, even if it is a little hard to get to.  Elkanah and Mary Barnes are both buried there, and there is a memorial for Mack, but he is actually buried in Montgomery.  Below you'll find photos of the cemetery's historical marker, the memorial for Mack Barnes, the entrance to the cemetery along US-331, and the current Strata Church of Christ building.  The map shows the cemetery historical marker, but if you follow US-331 about 1.7 miles north you'll find the current church building on the right side of the road at Hickory Grove Road.

Fair Prospect Cemetery historical marker, Montgomery County, Alabama

Fair Prospect Cemetery
Montgomery County

Atop this hill lies Fair Prospect Cemetery, established in the 1840s as part of Fair Prospect Church. Land was donated for the church and cemetery by Benjamin Mitchell (1765-1848) and his wife Jane Scrimpton Mitchell (1775-1850). The location of their graves is unknown. The earliest marked burials date to 1851 and the cemetery is still active today. Justus M. Barnes, founder of Strata Academy, was a leader in the congregation and his parents are buried here. In the 1870s, the church burned after lightning struck it and the congregation began meeting at Strata Academy. When the Academy moved and became Highland Home College, the church retained the campus building on the site of Strata Church of Christ. A.S. Naftel, founder of the Naftel community, acquired much of the Mitchell lands after 1850 and members of his family are buried here.

Listed in the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register
— Jay & Ruth Mitchell Ott, Descendant of Bejamin Mitchell - 2011

Memorial to the founders of Strata Academy, Fair Prospect Cemetery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Barnes, Jordan, Kilpatrick

Preachers, teachers, planters,
when this was wild frontier,
taught with love unstinted,
helped bring religion here.
Kith and kin take notice.
These leaders neath this sod
shaped a growing country
their monument to God.

1800-1940
— Erected in loving memory by Dr. M.B. Kirkpatrick

Entrance to Fair Prospect Cemetery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Strata Church of Christ, former site of Strata Academy, Montgomery County, Alabama