The AlaBenton Genealogical Society met Feb. 10 at Anniston Calhoun Public Library. The meeting, “Pelham Range before the War Department,” was organized by Tracy E. Higgins, a descendant of the Pelham Range Shady Glen community. He brought in Dr Heather Puckett, Alabama Army National Guard Cultural Resources manager, as our guest speaker and Dr. Puckett spoke to a full house. She presented many new discoveries about the more than 22,000-acre area before it was purchased by the War Department. Communities in the range were thriving industrial areas which included mining, saw and grist mills, cotton gins, stores, schools and residences.
Dr. Puckett announced that ground penetrating radar is being used to X-ray cemeteries on the range. Two of the seven have been completed, and the signatures show both cemeteries actually extend far beyond the formerly drawn boundaries. New Mount Sellers, an African American cemetery, has always contained more unmarked graves than those with headstones. Technology has proven that graves extend well beyond the boundary oak tree which had long been designated as entry to the cemetery. The family knowledge of Native American graves at the backside of Shady Glen provided Dr. Puckett a new avenue to exploration. She pointed out there are just under 600 archeological sites on Pelham Range, including numerous Native American sites.
The most intriguing discovery is tract Number 650, which Dr. Puckett announced is known now to be an orphanage. While it operated for an unknown number of decades, history on the orphanage, or what happened to the children housed there, is proving hard to find. An unmarked cemetery is associated with the orphanage and at least in its last years the facility was associated with the African American Methodist Church Orphanage of Selma, Ala. Contact with them has proven they have no records of the orphanage. Dr. Puckett encouraged anyone who thinks they had family members who could have been part of the orphanage to get in touch with AlaBenton to notify her of further historical background.
Before she left, Dr. Puckett donated a historical notebook of known family surname rosters, maps, and cemeteries to the Alabama Room. Both she and Tracy Higgins stressed the importance that Pelham Range opens annually for cemetery cleaning the first weekend in May. At that time the picturesque Willet Springs is open for family picnics. But come prepared with string trimmers, rakes, leaf blowers and plenty of mosquito spray because these areas are part of a wilderness in our backyards and the once-a-year cleanup is much needed.
A link to the Pelham-Range Historical Community facebook page has been placed on the AlaBenton Facebook page for those who need more information or have background on the orphanage.
— By Lisa Mills