I am an unrepentant genealogist. I wonder sometimes if it’s because I am an only child raised far away from extended family that I am so compelled to dig out as much information as I can about all of my ancestors. That’s probably reading too much pop psychology into it, but it does sort of fit. After all, I’ve amassed a family tree with almost 2000 people in it! My engineer brain likes categorizing by things like “earliest to arrive on this continent,” like my 10th great grandfather, Robert Reynolds who almost certainly arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1630 on one of the boats in the Winthrop Fleet. While not as early, or as famous, as the Mayflower group, the Winthrop Fleet was a group of 11 ships led by John Winthrop (first governor of the colony) that carried about 1000 Puritans plus livestock and provisions from England to the newly formed Massachusetts Bay Colony over the summer of 1630. I also like to see how far back I can take a family line – knowing full well that a lot of it is guess work. I have an Edmund Shepherd in Surrey England in 1475 – not sure how legit any of that part of the line is, but it’s fun to follow the trail and think “maybe!” Dates and statistics are interesting to me, but honestly, it’s a lot more fun finding cool little stories. I love stories like the one of Jacob Schoff, my 5th great grandfather, who came to Boston from Germany in 1752, even though he knew the organizer was probably a crook who would swindle the passengers out of their savings and bring them to the colonies as indentured servants. Even though his father and brothers all went elsewhere instead of risking this fate, Boston it would be, no matter what the cost – all because the woman he wanted to marry, Elizabeth, was already in Boston! I could go on and on, but that’s the thing about family histories. Usually, unless you’re famous or have a really cool story – they’re not interesting to anybody but you.
Except … somewhere along the way I have come to love not just my family history, but putting puzzle pieces together to find out about the family histories of total strangers. I think it’s the puzzle solving aspect that gets me. So when I was looking for my next hike and came across a description of “Graveyard Hill Waterfall Loop” in Guntersville State Park I thought – “Perfect! A graveyard and a waterfall! Two things I love.” Well, as it turns out, we’d already been to the “waterfall” which honestly is more like a couple of small boulders with a tiny trickle of water, so we skipped that part of the loop and only did half of the hike described in Johnny Molloy’s 50 Hikes in Alabama as “Graveyard Hill Waterfall Loop.” Our route would take us through the Kings Chapel Graveyard though, so I was pumped.
We actually started the day by going to TVA’s Cave Mountain Small Wild Area, but that was a short hike so we had plenty of time to continue on to Guntersville State Park for a second adventure. It was a beautiful day for a drive through the countryside, and the state park is only about 30 minutes from Cave Mountain so it didn’t take us long to make our way to the park entrance. From the main entrance, the road tees into Aubrey Carr Scenic Drive. We took a left and drove just a short ways to the first parking lot on the right. Knowing the funding situation for Alabama’s state parks, we were happy to drop some bills in the fee box before we headed across the road to start on Kings Chapel Trail. This trail looks like it started life as an old roadbed so it is a very comfortable walk through the woods for the most part. If it is a clear day and you have pretty good eyesight, you might be able to spot a glimpse of Lake Guntersville through the trees. About half a mile in the old roadbed looks like it peels off to the right while the trail goes up steeply straight ahead.
That one had me huffing and puffing a little bit, but it was a short stretch and soon enough, Kings Chapel Cemetery came into view. While I don’t believe it is still used, this large cemetery has obviously been cared for over the years. Many of the graves are old worn stones, with no writing legible anymore. However, someone – perhaps the park service – has put up crosses with any information that is known – “Infant” or “Unknown” are the most common for these. There are also simple stones with still-legible hand lettered names and dates, as well as more elaborate carved tombstones and some modern stones that obviously were recent replacements for older markers. Most of the graves seem to have been from the 1860s to the early 1900s.
Chet and I wandered around the graveyard for quite a while, and one pair of graves in particular caught my eye. There was a fairly elaborate carved stone for “Estelle Atchely Presley,” wife of “Terrey Presley.” She was born in 1913 and died in 1929. The dates are what got me. This girl was only 16 years old when she died, but was already married. We wondered if maybe she died in childbirth, and sure enough, two stones over, there was a stone for “Roy Presley” infant son of T. R. and M.E. Presley, born and died Dec. 12, 1929. Estelle’s death date was Dec. 28th, 1929, only about 3 weeks after her son died. Probably too late to be directly connected with issues during childbirth, though, so I wondered if there was more of a story there. When I got home, true to my genealogy obsession, I hit ancestry.com and did some digging. Here’s what I found: M. Estelle Atchely (first name either Mary or Minnie) was the daughter of Thomas Atchely Jr. and Julia Ann (Brock) Atchley. Thomas was the son of Thomas Atchely Sr., who served as a private in the Civil War in the 1st Alabama Infantry Regiment, and Alsey Jane Gipson. Thomas Jr. was born in Guntersville, and lived most of his life in Marshall County, working as a farmer. He married Fanny Hill in 1888 and they had 4 children. Fanny died at the age of 38 in 1897, one day after giving birth to her second son. Five months later Thomas Jr. married Julia Ann and they had 8 children. Estelle was the last. I don’t know exactly what happened to Julia, but she died when Estelle was 3. The family moved around a lot – they lived in Oleander in 1900, Wakefield in 1910, and Summit in 1920 – all little communities in Marshall County near Guntersville. That makes me wonder if he was maybe a sharecropper. He didn’t have a farm of his own to work or else he wouldn’t have been moving so much. It looks like Thomas Jr. married a couple more times, but there were no more children that I could find. Nonetheless, with a family of 12 children, possibly no mother, and a father who was probably just scraping by, it’s no wonder Estelle married young. The final piece to the puzzle, though, is heartbreaking. On “Find a Grave” someone has made the notation that Estelle died of 2nd and 3rd degree burns after her dress caught on fire when she sat too close to a heater.
The graveyard is the end point for Kings Chapel Trail and so to continue on the loop we took the well-marked Terrell Trail on around Graveyard Hill. This part of the trail is not too steep and winds through open woods. At about 1.7 miles in, the trail heads steeply down. Not quite “Princess Bride Crazy Steep Hill” steep, but steep enough that I was glad I was going down and not up! Right around here was were sharp-eyed Chet spotted another potential marker tree. We marked a waypoint for it on the GPS and took a picture of its bearing like we always do, but this time we couldn’t really tell what it might have been pointing to. If you’re interested, check out our GPS track and see if you can figure anything out. We’d love to hear about any ideas folks might have.
After the marker tree, the trail continues on down the flank of Graveyard Hill until it comes to a small shallow unnamed creek with a boardwalk across it. Chet and I had thought that there would be a spur trail leading to an old Terrell homesite right about here so we kept our eyes peeled. Soon enough we came to a side trail going off to the right with a large bridge over a ditch straight ahead. Unfortunately there was no sign here to indicate what we should do, but right felt like the right choice for the homesite so that’s what we did. Turns out that was the Terrell Connector trail and led over a couple of long boardwalks to a field. Nice in its way, but humph. Apparently any spur trail for the homesite was farther back on the trail and we missed it. I’m consoling myself with the thought that there probably isn’t any structure left there or it would have been marked more clearly on the map. Anyway, we retraced our steps back to the bridge and across the ditch, which turned out to lead to a clearing right on the edge of Aubrey Carr Scenic Drive a little east of where we started out.
The Terrell Connector trail continues across the road and leads up a hill for a short ways before coming to a trail junction. At a tee intersection, Terrell Connector goes to the left while Taylor Mountain trail heads right. We wanted to complete our loop so we went left. This part of the trail is mostly level with one creek crossing over a pretty impressively framed little bridge. In less than half a mile, though, we ended up back at the parking lot.
All in all, this was a very nice almost 3 mile hike. For me, the most interesting part of the hike was at the beginning in the graveyard, but even if you aren’t as interested in that kind of thing as I am, this loop is scenic and not terribly difficult. I’d highly recommend it!