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Homer's First Cemetery - History of Claiborne Parish
BY Susan T. Herring Editor, The Guardian-Journal
Images are Needed for this Article

As you stroll through the park like setting of the Old Homer Cemetery, you are surrounded by 150 years of Claiborne Parish history. Over 450 persons, some famous and some not-so-famous, are buried in the Old Cemetery located at the corner of West 3rd and North 5th.

The death of John A. Millican on March 17, 1850 may have prompted the need for the first public cemetery in Homer. According to his marker in the Old Cemetery, Millican was born March 7, 1842 and died ten days after his eighth birthday in 1850. Two weeks after his death, on April 2, the Claiborne Parish Police Jury voted to donate five acres to the Town of Homer for a "public burying place.".

Robert Tillinghast Vaughan was five years old when Homer was incorporated in 1850. He was the son of pioneer Tillinghast Vaughan who patented the land lying on the west side of the Homer town square.

The Claiborne Parish Police Jury patented the land on which the Courthouse presently stands in Sept. 1. 1849, as well as the land on the north, south, and east sides of the town square. In order to raise money to construct the courthouse, the Police Jury sold lots around the public square.

Robert Vaughan's brother Frank, newspaper editor for The Guardian in 1877, is credited for naming Homer after the Greek poet. The Guardian is not to be confused with The Guardian-Journal which was established 13 years later. Robert, his wife Gertrude Harris Vaughan and daughter Chattie are buried in the Old Cemetery.

Allen Harris served as the sheriff of Claiborne Parish from 1851-1854, the first sheriff to serve after the parish seat was moved to Homer. Born in Georgia in 1818, Harris married Mary Barry Lawson of Tennessee. Their daughter Martha married Adolphus McCranie Aug. 20, 1859. McCranie was born July 13, 1831 in St. Clair Co., Ala. and died in Sept. 1878 at the age of 47. He was a partner to George Gustavis "G.G." Gill, both prominent Homer merchants.

Gill was the grandfather of Paulyn Dougherty and Ruth James and built the original house that was divided and became the two houses they live in today on South Main.

Adolphus and Martha McCranie's daughter Bennie married A.E. Wilder. They leased over 3,000 acres in the Homer Oilfield and drilled the discovery well that brought in the oil boom. The first golf course built four miles north of Homer carried the name A.E. Wilder.

Just inside the gate of the Old Homer Cemetery are the graves of John L. and Elizabeth. Garrett, parents of Pat Garrett, the lawman known for killing the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid.

Also buried here is the area's first Presbyterian minister, Rev. Joseph T. Davidson (1818-1881), great-grandfather of retired physicians, James and Pat Gladney.

One of the original organizers of the Homer National Bank, William P. Otts, is buried here. Otts was the bank's first president, serving from 1890 until his death in 1902. Born in Alabama in 1814, he moved to Homer in 1868.

In 1990, Otts was highlighted in the 100th anniversary publication of the Bank, describing him as "one of the leading businessmen in North Louisiana". Although the publication credits him with building the Anne Edmonds' house at 628 North Main, it was actually his kinsman J.T. Otts who built the house in 1908 or 1909. His epitaph reads "his deeds were kindness, his words were love, his spirit humble, he rests above."

The tallest monument is twelve feet tall and was ordered from Italy by Walker Dunston for his wife Mollie who died Sept. 14, 1865 at the age of 23. By the time it arrived a year or so later, Dunston couldn't pay the shipping charges so the community took up a collection. An inscription on one side reads, "Mollie, I knew earth's fairest things were destined to decay, But never had I thought thou so soon must pass away. - By your devoted husband."

Outside the fence, on the hill are more graves, believed to be the graves of former slaves or paupers. Among them are Julia, wife of L. Bullock, born Jan. 19, 1852, died Feb. 24, 1919 and their daughters, Carrie R. and Dora. Also Belle Flucas, wife of Denis, born Feb. 10, 1879, died June 9, 1901 - age 22 years, 3 months and 29 days. Another reads Ella Fuller, died August 25, 1921.

Another marker outside the fenced area, once photographed by Bill Hightower, bears the name Aaron Love - born 1770, died Oct. 31, 1917. Just below is written "True Vine Chamber 3554 - Homer, La." Love has two marriages on record in Claiborne Parish - one to Hannah Pearson on May 1, 1890 and the other to Linie Jones on April 24, 1906.

Love is the grandfather of Jennie V. Washington and great-great-grandfather of Louise Walker, both Homer residents, who believe the birthdate should read 1870. Love Chapel Baptist Church on the Minden highway was named in honor of Aaron Love.

The Old Homer Cemetery was vandalized in 1960, in 1963, and again in 1988 when over 80% of the markers were damaged. Anna Gladden Berry who lived near the cemetery and was its chief caretaker for years, was distressed about the vandalism since both her husband and son were buried there.

It was Berry's concern that prompted five local citizens to get involved - Norton Tompkins. Bob Brakefield, Jim Penuell, Dr. James Gladney, and Dr. Pat Gladney. Working eight hours a day for two months, the five retirees restored the broken headstones.

Once finished, they updated the directory using two earlier surveys of the Cemetery, one by Sam and Marguerite Nation in 1963 and another by Eleanor Seward in 1985, then placed a copy near the entrance. On Nov. 7, 1995 Anna Berry died and became the last person to be buried in the Old Homer Cemetery.

About 1909, Homer opened a second public cemetery, the Homer Arlington Cemetery, located just east of town on Hwy. 146. J.H. Davidson, son of Rev. Joseph Davidson, is buried here. The first full time superintendent of Claiborne Parish schools, serving from 1908-1920, was born July 16, 1848 and died Nov. 11, 1920.

In those early days there were no funeral homes in Homer, therefore master carpenter Shelton Gill, son of G.G. Gill, and Jim Tooke were hired to build a chapel in the center of the cemetery. Arlington House served as cemetery chapel for funeral services as well as a place for family and friends to gather.

Homer Hardware sold caskets and would sometimes deliver them to the home or the chapel. Embalming was also done in the rear of the store by one of the owners, O.M. Kerlin, who was a mortician.

Between 1982 and 1984, Arlington House 1999Arlington House was restored by Tom Richardson, Jr. using plans donated by architect Mike Dougherty who is the great grandson of G.G. Gill.

In 1982, Mayor Joe Michael appointed a committee made up of Dr. James Gladney, Jr., Dr. W.P. Gladney, Mildred Baird, J.L. Moss, and Felton Alexander. In 1998, Mayor Huey Dean added Wayne Smith, Ed Watson, Mary Turner and Horace Watson to the committee now known as Homer Arlington Cemetery Association or "Friends of Arlington". The Association continues to help financially with the maintenance and improvement of the Arlington Cemetery.

Courtesy of The Gaurdian-Journal

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