Ralston Cemetery Cleanup, November 2004

By Larry Holder

On a forested half-acre within the Ralston Community, bounded by the old railroad bed to the north and the remnants of the Dresden-Hickman road once frequented by stagecoaches, the Ralston Cemetery stands as a memorial to the pioneer spirit of Weakley County.

And it seems that every 25 years or so, the Ralston Cemetery is freed from its jungle of fallen timber, thorns, and thickets, once again to pay honor and respect to those whose names are inscribed on the stones dotting the landscape.

One of the earlier cleanups on record, as reported in the Martin Mail, took place in 1954. Two decades later, the Martin Pilot Club was instrumental in re-clearing the land in 1976. Unfortunately, vandals violated the sanctity of the land, toppling and breaking stones in a short but irreversible act of reckless disregard for family heritage and community history. Following that period, the hilltop was allowed to return to forest, the stones once again disappearing into the greenery which provided a veil of protection from unwanted intruders, but also left the stones subject to additional damage from fallen limbs and the incursion of roots and vines.

However, Ralston Cemetery was far from forgotten. Don Welch, who grew up in Martin and presently resides near St. Louis, discovered several of his ancestors’ stones, and scheduled regular trips to clean up his family’s area for the past four years. Joining him in these efforts for the past two years, Larry Holder, whose wife is a descendent of Alexander Ralston, the community’s founder who set apart the cemetery in the 1860’s, had been concentrating on the middle section which includes Ralston and extended family. And Ted Brock, whose ancestors’ stones were most recently surrounded by the densest vegetation, had been spraying a pathway to those stones for many months as well.

Seeing an opportunity to bring together these dedicated individuals and other interested persons in a cooperative effort of community involvement, Bill McClain of Dresden, who grew up in Ralston in the early 1900’s, contacted Chris Brinkley, a Ralston resident, at WCMT radio, and also placed notices in the Weakley County Press, organized planning meetings, opened a bank account and Martin post office box for donations, and coordinated the assistance of county trustees through the county sheriff.

The first week of November was set apart for several days of careful cleanup, particularly the removal of the dense vegetation and the selective clearing of fallen and precariously leaning trees, all of which had grown rapidly in the quarter-century since the prior cleanup campaign. Although rain was on the forecast for most of the week, Monday proved to be an excellent day for work, with the cloud cover providing a cool working climate. Tuesday was given up to the rain, but Wednesday and Thursday provided additional time to follow up on the major headway accomplished on the first day. Ted Brock was instrumental in the removal of several of the more sizeable tree stumps. Also, Ralph and Roger Donaldson, uncles of Chris Brinkley, donated the machinery and manpower of Donaldson Brothers Construction in the setting of a chain link fence at the front of the cemetery, for the express purpose of deterring off-road vehicles. Fencing material was purchased from Rural King in Martin, funded entirely by prior donations, with thanks to Rural King for their special considerations.

The Ralston Cemetery is once again a quiet place of respectful reflection, bordered by trees yet without the hindrances of briers, poison ivy, tall grasses, and fallen timber. With careful deliberation over the next several months, many of the fallen stones will be repaired to the best degree possible and set back upright. Prior to the clearing, about 75 monuments were located and cataloged; during and afterwards, several more were located once again. Those visiting the cemetery are asked to leave the stones as they are presently found, while the coordinated efforts continue.

Those participating during the cleanup week included Bill McClain, Ted Brock, Raymond Lamb, Ronald Plunk, Donald Joe “Duck” Welch, Chris Brinkley, Larry Holder, Rick Dowland, John Cummins (both Rick and John reside in the adjoining neighborhood), Debra Kidwell, James Morris, Matt Van Meter, and Derek Cunningham (of Lake Nowhere), Ralph and Roger Donaldson, Jason Wainscott, and A.J. Hinkle (of Donaldson Brothers Construction), county mayor Ron Gifford, and county trustees Johnny Cotton, Mike Hubbell, and Dwayne (D.C.) Edwards.

Donations are still needed to help with stone repair and restoration, as well as general cemetery upkeep; those wishing to aid in the continued improvement and care of the Ralston Cemetery may deposit into the account of the Ralston Community Business Association at the First State Bank in Martin (University Street branch), or mail a check to P.O. Box 802, Martin, TN 38237. For additional information, interested individuals may contact Larry Holder at UT Martin: 881-7890, or Chris Brinkley at the WCMT radio station: 587-9526.

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