Headstone returned to Old Cahawba

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, June 4, 2015

The cleanup of an abandoned cemetery in Montgomery led to the discovery of a headstone that was stolen years ago in Dallas County.

After years of not having a gravestone, Mary Louisa Portis, a newborn baby that died in 1853, will finally have her stone returned to her final resting place at Old Cahawba Archaeological Park Saturday at 11 a.m.

According to Linda Derry, site director at Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, Leeann Wofford, who works with the Alabama Historical Commission, initially pointed out the headstone.

Wofford and other volunteers were recently cleaning up Lincoln Cemetery in Montgomery when she noticed something that seemed out of place.

“These volunteers went in and they were trying to help straighten the cemetery up,” Derry said. “They noticed that there’s this precious, high quality marker that was just inside the gate under a magnolia tree that dated to 1853, which was suspicious because the cemetery was from 1907.”

Upon finding the gravestone, volunteers Denise Hardin and Phyllis Armstrong began researching and were determined to find the proper location through genealogical research.

That’s when they came across Old Cahawba and contacted Derry.

“They researched the name that was on the grave, … and they traced it back to Old Cahawba,” Derry said. “They ended up talking to me, and I actually had a document that recorded that that marker was in the cemetery as late as 1963.”

Derry said Cahawba was badly vandalized in the 1960s, leaving many headstones in pieces or worse, stolen.

“In the long run, what it come to, is the cemetery at Old Cahawba was horribly vandalized in the 1960s and a lot of stones broken up and stones disappeared,” Derry said. “I’m pretty sure that’s when it disappeared.”

The park had an already scheduled walking tour for 10 a.m. Saturday, and Derry said it fit perfectly with having a ceremony for Portis on the same day.

“We’re going to place this stone back on top of the grave of this little girl so we’re restoring … her story to the cemetery and we’re going to have a precious little ceremony to remember the little girl, to celebrate the homecoming and to thank these wonderful volunteers from Montgomery that are bringing back a little bit of Dallas County’s history,” Derry said.

Derry said having the gravestone returned to the park may be just what they needed.

“We needed a little pick-me-up at Cahawba and this is good news,” Derry said.

“And maybe it will motivate other people to help us repair all that damage that was done in the 1960s. We hope people do turn out because this is something these people from Montgomery are coming and doing for Dallas County so I hope there’s some Dallas County people there that are there to thank them, shake their hands, pat them on the back. It’s nice when people who do nice things are rewarded.”

The walking tour at 10 a.m. Saturday is $8, which will go toward upkeep of the park. For more information about the park, walking tour or ceremony, call (334) 872-8058.