Beck Knob Project

Aug 28, 2022 | Chattanooga, GIS, QGIS

If I ever had to stand behind one thing I’ve learned as a business and working in Geo – there is no end to free work. A few years ago I had to do a hard stop on volunteer projects and settle on one a year. That one can be one week in length. It can be 6 months. It can only be one though. I do that one and then I do another one the next calendar year.

I didn’t have a project this year. Finally one happened: Mapping a Cemetery and in this case Beck Knob. A few years ago I was at one of several family cemeteries and I had this “want” to map a cemetery. All the family cemeteries seem to rely on headstones and memory. Lose either and you’re going to have a harder time communing with the dead.

Beck Knob 2022

Anyway – why Beck Knob?

“For the past 120 years, Beck Knob cemetery has been a repository of centuries worth of history and culture. Being the first documented African American cemetery in Chattanooga, Joshua Beck created it as a resting place for the enslaved and their families. In 1888, the land was deeded to the Hurst United Methodist Church. From the year 1888 to the 1940s, Beck Knob cemetery was used very frequently. The cemetery is the home of many formerly enslaved African Americans. The oldest person interred there is Mrs. Julia Winship. The cemetery is a sanctuary for many deceased African Americans who lived through turbulent and unforgiving times, and remains an incredibly significant piece of North Chattanooga’s history.”

i called a shout and Platinum Geomatics came up to help. The plan was to do Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) but with the slope we were dealing with it was easier to mark suspected Graves. They sent one person to mark graves and one person to GPS. If you need anything in the Southeast as far as Surveying or just mapping work – give these good people a shout.

Volunteers out flagging graves marked by PG

Now – the number we started with was “188”. A historian did a search through Chattanooga Obituaries and came up with 188 known burials

We had around 400 graves. Plus with what little we know about the property boundary we only really did 2/3s of the cemetery (the empty part is covered in Kudzu). Will we ever know all the people? No. Are there records? No. The best we can do is preserve the cemetery and locate what we can. Double Bonus – it’s now a National Historic Landmark I think which brings with it some state/federal protection. We think at the end we will have 700 to 800 graves.

Yesterday was a small service. Family’s were recognized that had ties to the cemetery. NRGS got a shout out. Platinum Geomatics got a shout out. It was a good day. What was nice about this get together is you could see who was in this to make sure the cemetery is preserved.

Anyway – more news as it becomes available. I’ll probably talk about the technical and the human side to this quite a bit coming up.

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