By David Fleet
Atlas Twp.- By a 5-0 vote on Monday night the township board of trustees authorize the township attorney to pursue legal easement to the Atlas Cemetery.
The historical cemetery dating back more than 250 years, located on a 1/4 acre tract of land just behind the Atlas Baptist Church, 6396 S. Gale Road, near the intersection of Gale and Perry roads in Atlas, is in need of care. Many of the stones are missing and dilapidated due to age.
Township attorney David Lattie, who attended the meeting on Monday said the Atlas Baptist Church has been sold and a business now owns the church building and property around the cemetery.
“They do not own the cemetery,” said Lattie.
Last year the township did some title work on the cemetery and it dates back many years. The township is going to be responsible for the maintenance of the cemetery, the care of the headstones and the lawnmowing.
“There is a good argument the cemetery belongs to the township,” he said. “One issue is how does anyone gain access (to the cemetery)? You have to drive up a driveway and across a parking lot to get to the cemetery.”
The basic concept is the cemetery has been there longer than any of the buildings and you can’t land lock a public property, like the cemetery, he said.
“We (the township) should as a matter of right, establish an easement to the extent necessary to allow maintenance and people to visit that cemetery. We won’t have a lot of extra space for parking, but a court (of law) is going to make that declaration.”
Ownership of the Atlas Cemetery has been a question for many years. For many years the church members maintained the grounds while the township cared for the Horton cemetery grounds a few miles to the south. Then in about 2015 a title search on the Atlas Cemetery discovered that neither the township or the church had clear title or ownership to the cemetery.
“We want to make sure we have established our stewardship over that cemetery property,” said Lattie. “The last piece of the puzzle is to make sure there is vehicular and pedestrian access to the cemetery.”
Shirley Katuman-Jones, township supervisor said at one time there was an easement out to Gale Road.
“When it was known as ‘Davisonville’ it was the Davison Family settlement,” said Katuman-Jones. “However, over time that changed and the homes were built to the north of the church, appear to have encroached on the cemetery area.”
A few of the headstones are now up against the asphalt parking lot and driveway of the church, she said.
“It’s a matter of preserving that burial ground as part of the township and gain access to it,” she added. “The other concern is that during that era there were many wooden headstones and they need to be restored. For historical significance and to honor the wishes of the families buried there the township should take part to gain the easement. Over the years the Goodrich/Atlas Historical Society has taken the cemetery on as a labor of love. The existing headstones need care to prevent anymore damage. There are also many unmarked graves in the cemetery that need to be marked.”