MOUNT GILEAD – “Headwaters History: The County Home and Cemetery Dedication” was an informative and respectful program and ceremony at Headwaters Outdoor Education Center Sunday. The day’s event included a history of Headwaters, a history of the county home, research of those who lived and were buried at the county home, and a dedication of the county home cemetery.
The Morrow County Home, first presented to the county commissioners Jan. 4, 1870, was demolished in 2002. Some stones and old fence may be all that remains of the structure at the site, the last barn built there is still standing. And now a small cemetery pays respect to those who lived and died there.
And the Morrow County Historical Society and the Morrow County Genealogical Society preserve records and photos so the home and many of those who lived there are not lost from the historic record.
Chair of the Headwaters Board Eddie Lou Meimer welcomed more than 25 members and visitors to the event and opened the program with an explanation of how Headwaters came into being.
Meimer thanked Gene Gompf of Gompf Funeral Home for bringing a period hearse, embalming implements and a late 1800s casket to the event.
“We have about 150 acres here that were turned over to us by the county commissioners in 1999,” Meimer said.
The commissioners at that time had visited another outdoor education center and thought Morrow County would benefit from one as well. The commissioners coordinated with the Morrow County Soil and Water Conservation District board to plan Morrow County’s new center.
“At that time, it was an over-grazed cow pasture,” Meimer said.
Original committee members included Marilyn Weiler, Mia Shotwell, Phylis Miller and her late husband, Jim Miller; Kay and Charlie Evans, and Eddie Lou Meimer. More recent committee members include Gail West and Kim Forget.
Headwaters added their first building to the property and over the years other buildings followed. They also maintain three miles of hiking trails, open to the public, with bridges and a pond.
Meimer said Jim Miller did the initial work to locate the county home’s cemetery plots and more information has surfaced in the last few years.
County Home History
Local historian Stan Sipes shared the County Home’s history.
“It existed for 115 years, providing refuge for over 2,100 people. The farm raised cattle and produced maple syrup, a British production company made a movie there. Today, only a barn reminds us of its existence.
In the time before the government’s welfare system existed, the Morrow County Home housed those down on their luck or cast aside by society. The home provided a hand up, not a hand out,” Sipes shared.
The home began in 1870 when the county commissioners acquired the Irwin farm on what is now County Road 76. The first action they took was to build an addition onto the farmhouse; and by 1925, the home had 48 rooms.
The home was available to senior citizens, people with mental and physical afflictions, runaways, young women who found themselves “in the family way,” and those recovering from major surgery.
County Home resident Elijah Dickerson rarely spoke of his life in Alabama prior to the Civil War.
“He was well-liked by everyone at the home. They called him Uncle Elijah. Few knew of his past. He had lived for years in a hut near the County Home until Gilead Township trustees had him admitted. After living in a hut, Elijah considered the county home absolutely palatial. The few residents of the home he did confide in, Dickerson told of his life as a slave in the Deep South and later as a free man after the Civil War,” Sipes said.
Dickerson died at the county home in 1899 and was buried in an unmarked grave at the Friends Church, two miles south of Mount Gilead.
In 1986, the home was closed.
County Home Burials
Phylis Miller spoke about the nearby Sunfish Cemetery where some of the county home residents were buried.
“The first two rows, inside the gate, were reserved for residents of the county home. According to the record there were 125 burials, but I can only account for 36 of them being from county home residents from this booklet that the genealogical society printed from old records,” Miller said.
The county purchased land on this side of the C.R. 76 in 1895, and then established another burial ground on the west side.
“The first person that was buried there wasn’t until 1914. The first one to be buried there was a man named William Dodds who died on April 18, 1914 at the age of 41 years. He had only lived at the county home for about a month,” Miller said. “He was listed as an itinerant.”
Several attendees shared memories of the home or people who had resided there.
The memorial cemetery dedication, which included a reading of Psalms 23, poetry, the first verse of Amazing Grace, and the playing of Taps was held in front of the dedicated plot.
The cemetery is partially bound by original fencing from the county home with an open arch center front.
Headwaters Outdoor Education Center is located at 151 Home Road, Mt. Gilead.