(Author’s Note: Since I wrote this post in 2015, I have been contacted by several Crowley descendants and others wanting to know how they can get involved in cleaning up the mausoleum. A wonderful fellow named Brenton Head has spearheaded several clean up days in recent years and the mausoleum is now getting regular attention. You can find Brenton on Facebook if you’re interested in helping out.)
I’m going to talk about a place I get asked about from time to time. The Crowley Mausoleum has a storied past but it currently sits forgotten. How it got that way is quite a tale. Most of what I was able to find out about it was from an account from Forest Crowley, a descendant.
James Crowley was born in 1772 in Pittsylvania County, Va. His parents, Benjamin and Sarah, brought the family to Oglethorpe County, Ga. in 1785. Benjamin died in 1817. In 1822, James received about 500 acres in Decatur from a land lottery and farmed it until his death in 1828. He later owned additional farms and did well financially, owning a number of slaves.
The family put their cemetery on a hill overlooking their land. When James died, he was buried there as was his wife, Dorcas, in 1852.
Son Allen Crowley owned the land from 1829 to 1846, when he moved his family by wagon train to Northern Mississippi. Younger brother Seaborn Crowley and his family took it over from 1846 to 1896 when it was purchased by the Hill Family (also Crowley relatives).
According to Forest Crowley, the cemetery was originally in the middle of the pasture on the farm surrounded by a barbed wire fence. For a number of years in the 1950s, this fence fell into disrepair and livestock were able to enter and leave the cemetery.
In 1960, the Hills sold part of the land and leased the other part so that the Columbia Mall could be built. Completed in 1963, the mall was near the intersection of Memorial Drive and Columbia Road. The builder agreed to build a mausoleum around the cemetery, which was in the parking lot. The builder had to dig down about 20 to 25 feet on all sides of the cemetery and then build the building around the cemetery.
There were 40 or 50 slave graves buried surrounding the cemetery. Sadly, no effort was made to save those graves and they were built over. Currently, the 11 graves (nine of them of the box variety) at the top of the mausoleum are members of the Crowley, Cross and Hawkins families. Seven are adults and four are children.
The name changed to Avondale Mall at some point. People visiting the mall often joked that the Mausoleum was the “Tomb of the Unknown Shoppers”. A 1994 newspaper article quoted someone as saying “When I die, bury me at the mall. That way I know you’ll come to see me every day.”
Many people I’ve talked to remember navigating around the mausoleum when going to the mall to shop. One even told me he remembered as a teen learning how to drive in that parking lot and nearly hitting it.
A bronze plaque explained the history of the site. I’m not sure where the part about the land grant being from the king of England came from. It contradicts everything else I’ve read. The plaque was later pried off the mausoleum and has vanished.
The area around the mall changed in the late 70s and 80s as white flight hit and some of the mall’s stores began to close. When Macy’s closed their clearance store there in 1995, the writing was on the wall. In 2001, it finally closed and sat empty until Walmart purchased the land and demolished the mall. After some community protests, construction for a Supercenter began and it opened in 2008.
According to Forest Crowley, there’ve been a number of break-ins at the Mausoleum over the last several years and some of the headstones on top of the box tombs were broken and thrown to the parking lot, then thrown away. Other headstones were stolen.
Due to the reconfiguration of the parking lot, the Crowley Mausoleum is now mostly hidden by trees and is behind a Napa Auto Parts store. You can’t see it from the parking lot but if you know where to look, you can glimpse it as you’re driving past the Napa on Memorial Drive.
I knew about the Crowley Mausoleum for a while but hadn’t stopped to get a good look at it. To be honest, that stretch of Memorial Drive is rather sketchy and I wasn’t keen on poking around on my own. It wasn’t until January of this year, when I had my friend and fellow cemetery hopper Jennifer with me, that I got an up close look at it.
Unfortunately, being hidden from sight hasn’t done it any favors.
The mausoleum is about 20 feet high and unless you’ve got a ladder (or as I joked with Jennifer, a cherry picker), you can’t see the top of it or the graves. It looks like someone’s spray painted the area to the right of the door.
I did take a look up the stairs to try to get a glimpse of the view.
I have no idea who is currently in charge of taking care of the Crowley Mausoleum now, if there is anyone doing so. I haven’t contacted the DeKalb History Center yet but I plan to. Maybe they know. I worry that if it continues to deteriorate, someone’s going to break into it and vandalize what’s left of the graves at the top. If there IS anything left of them.
Interestingly enough, the Crowley Mausoleum isn’t the only example of a cemetery in a parking lot. This site shows aerial photos of some others around the country.
Next week, I’ll visit the Stephen Martin Cemetery in Dunwoody (also in DeKalb County). It’s tucked away behind a large shopping center next to Perimeter Mall but is in better shape than the Crowley Mausoleum.