A new hope for Hilltop Cemetery
Dec. 17, 2017
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Looking over Hinton, the Hilltop Cemetery provides a panoramic view through the bare trees of the old railroad town and the river junction that led to its creation.
As he walked over the leaf-covered graves, Bobby Cox called out the names and occupations of Hinton's past: Flanigans, merchants, Pecks, doctors, Millers, a judge, Parkers, who owned the city's first opera house, alongside the Waldos, Plumleys, Skaggs and Jordans.
Cox has lived in Hinton his whole life and now lives just up the road a bit.
"This is where all the founders of Hinton are buried," Cox said. "Most of them."
According to Cox, the cemetery was operated by Avis Hinton, the second wife of John Hinton, who sold lots to the more prominent members of the town around the late 1800s.
Cox, a retired county worker, has taken it upon himself to try to maintain the cemetery as much as possible, along with Dorothy Jean Boley and Jack Whitaker, who make up the cemetery's association.
Although that association has funds in line for the upkeep of the cemetery, those funds do not accrue enough yearly interest to pay for the yearly landscaping bill.
So last summer, Cox set to mowing the grass himself.
Another hurdle at the cemetery is the placement of fallen headstones, either vandalized or knocked down by fallen limbs.
While it is the city's main historical cemetery, Hilltop sits off the road, mostly hidden by the slope of the mountainside and the trees that grow through it.
"There's a whole city down here as I call it," Cox said, adding that 1,350 people are noted as being buried there so far.
That city in Cox's eyes has interesting stories to tell.
"As far as the cemetery itself, it tells its own kind of history," Cox said.
To prove his point, Cox points out a headstone with an interesting inscription.
"Killed in Hinton, West Virginia by Engine 402," the marker reads, bluntly spelling out the early downfall of a railroad man.
While full of interesting stories and tales, Hilltop has been left uncared for many years, leading Cox to lobby for improved access to the cemetery site as well as its historic preservation.
Along with another group that he has volunteered for in the past, Cox has already reset 60 headstones on the property.
Although the work is there, Cox said that the interest has not been until recently.
"It's kind of on its own," Cox said of the cemetery, noting that most of the burials there are from the turn of the past century, with many of the families long gone.
"These are the forgotten ones," Cox said.
The retired county worker said one of the biggest issues has been the lack of a safe access road into the older section of the cemetery.
Although a road existed, it wasn't usable save for a four-wheel-drive truck.
So when Cox recently received a call from Jack Fredeking about the cemetery, he was floored.
The Fredekings were one of those important families of Hinton around the turn of the century, with William Fredeking owning a jewelry shop in town.
Cox didn't know that any Fredekings were still in the area, so when Jack Fredeking called and asked what he could do to help, Cox jumped at the offer.
According to Fredeking, his parents had recently attempted to visit the cemetery where at least 12 of his ancestors are buried, but the road was impassable.
Fredeking, who owns a construction company based out of Princeton, heard of this and decided something had to be done.
When recently working at the First Methodist Church in town, Fredeking sought out those involved at the cemetery to volunteer his equipment and his crew's manpower to work at the cemetery.
"We really wanted to get involved in it and really try to go down several times a year," Fredeking said.
So with his equipment and a donated culvert pipe from West Virginia American Water, Fredeking's crew got to work on the cemetery's access road.
Much to Cox's surprise, the work didn't stop there, with Fredeking's crew also resetting five headstones that had fallen.
While volunteering his crew's time and equipment, Fredeking said that he greatly appreciates Cox and the cemetery association's effort.
"It really means a lot to my family," he said. "I think they are doing a wonderful job. I just wish we had known earlier and we would have been able to help these guys."
Although a great deal has already been completed, Fredeking added that this is just the beginning and his crew will be back.
"We want to continue our efforts down there, and hopefully other people will join in and we can try to keep that part of Summers County alive," Fredeking said.
While scoring a key component in access, Cox is still doing everything he can to improve the historical cemetery.
The cemetery association and the Summers County Historical Society are in the process of publishing a book.
According to Cox, the proceeds of that book with go into the cemetery's maintenance fund for future upkeep.
An amateur historian, Cox has already collected countless historical documents that will go into the book and an accurate cemetery map.
"We want to make sure that we've covered everybody that is possibly buried here," Cox said.
In the long run, Cox would also like to see the cemetery placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"It's very hard for a cemetery to get on the historical register," Cox said. "I didn't know that until I started looking into it."
Stopping at a headstone that he has recently been spending time on, Cox said he believes that in the past family members may have used Clorox on the stone, adding that the only thing you should use is soap and water.
"It is a slow process getting a stone back," the retired county worker said.
Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com