A few weeks ago, I told you about how the Crowley Cemetery became the Crowley Mausoleum that’s located in the parking lot of the former Columbia/Avondale Mall (land now occupied by a Walmart). Today I’m going to share about another family cemetery that also ended up surrounded by commercial development. But this one has a somewhat happier ending.
I didn’t know anything about Stephen Martin Cemetery in Dunwoody until I read an offhand comment on Facebook that mentioned a cemetery at Perimeter Mall. I spend a lot of time in Dunwoody since my church is there, so I went to check it out.
Stephen Martin Cemetery is not in the Perimeter Mall shopping center itself. But it’s located behind a large strip shopping center across the road, almost completely hidden from view. From what I’ve read, the proximity of the cemetery forced a slight rerouting of I-285 and Ashford Dunwoody Road back in the day.
I went about finding the cemetery the wrong way. They’re doing a lot of construction on the road that this shopping center and a nearby hotel are located on. Big trucks were rumbling past the much easier tree-lined path that you can access from the Marshall’s parking lot on the side of the building. Because I missed seeing this entrance, I ended up going through the woods in the back behind the guard rail.
It’s a surreal experience to be standing in a cemetery that you know was once surrounded by farmland but has slowly shrunk down to this little patch. In front of you are the back doors to a Marshall’s and a T. Mobile store. Behind you, only a parking lot separates you from I-285, the interstate that encircles Atlanta. Past and present are keenly felt here.
As far as when the first burial took place, that is a mystery. But from what I can gather, one of the earliest was Elizabeth Francis Garrett Martin. She was the first wife of Stephen Martin and probably died in 1848. There are many graves marked only with rough fieldstones, so there may be graves even older than that.
Stephen Martin is thought to be buried between Elizabeth and his second wife, Sarah Crowley Martin. I think Sarah’s grave might be the one pictured on the left in the picture below because it looks to be made with larger pieces of stone (or slate) and not rocks. These stacked stone-style cairn graves always fascinate me because of their rough-hewn design.
With an ancestry based in Germany, Stephen Martin was originally from Laurens County, S.C. and moved to Georgia with his first wife and their children sometime before 1830. The area was home to the Cherokee Indian tribe of the Creek Confederation before white settlers came in. Two of his daughters (Naomi and Sophia) would marry into the influential Spruill family, who were key players in the establishment of Dunwoody.
One can easily say the Spruill family is still making their mark today. The Spruill’s original house was built in 1867 and was the center of a working farm. A large shopping center that includes a Walmart now looms large next door.
When Stephen T. Spruill married Mollie Lee Carter in 1889, that house was presented to them as a wedding gift from Stephen’s parents, Thomas F. and Naomi “Omie” Martin Spruill. In 1905, Stephen tore down the original log house and rebuilt it as the house it is known as today. The Spruill’s house and five surrounding acres were donated to the Spruill Center for the Arts to serve as a place to foster creative expression through the arts. It is now known as the Spruill Gallery.
Omie Martin married Thomas Franklin Spruill in 1866. Before that, Thomas served in the Civil War, enlisting in Company C., 63rd Georgia Infantry in October 1863. His company surrendered on April 26, 1865 and he returned home in May that year.
Beside Thomas and Omie are the graves of four of their children who died before the age of 8. Many of their other children are buried at nearby Sandy Springs First Baptist Church Cemetery.
Sophia, Stephen Martin’s youngest daughter with his first wife, married Joseph T. Spruill in 1868. They had several children but only Sarah Cordelia, who lived just a short time, is buried beside them. Their son, Nolia, is buried to the right and back of their plot.
Despite the fact it’s hidden behind a shopping center, the Martin Cemetery is in pretty good shape. The Dunwoody Preservation Trust looks after it, as far as I can tell.
One key factor in why I think the Martin Cemetery fared better than the Crowley Cemetery is the Spruill family itself. When they sold part of their land for the construction of Perimeter Mall and the development around it in 1971, they made sure that the cemetery wasn’t touched and would be protected. A number of Spruills still live in the Dunwoody area today.
I also believe that the very fact that it’s hidden from sight has been to its advantage. I didn’t notice any vandalism or damage to the gravestones, save for a few that could use some TLC due to time and weathering.
So if you’re ever tired of shopping and want to enjoy a little Dunwoody history, stop by the Stephen Martin Cemetery and step back in time amid the chaos.
Just make sure to take the road MORE traveled to get there.