Corinth (Turtleskin) Cemetery group forms committee as first step to address future

The long-term upkeep of the Corinth Cemetery, a.k.a. “Turtleskin Cemetery”, located just north of Stennis Space Center on Highway 607 in Hancock County, was the topic of a group of concerned citizens who met Tuesday night at Corinth Baptist Church in Nicholson.

Tim Kellar (pictured), Chancery Clerk of Hancock County, who like all in the group, has family buried in the cemetery, provided the group a brief history lesson on how the operation of the cemetery came to be.

Kellar, using copies of deeds, court actions, law suits, maps, and other related documents from as far back as the year 1903, explained that the property the property is legally known as Corinth Cemetery. Kellar pointed out that the cemetery is not a public cemetery as many had thought and he said there was documentation that referenced Corinth Cemetery as a public cemetery, but officially it was not such an entity.

According to Kellar, the original cemetery was approximately 8 acres and after the Corinth Baptist Church property was split off, the cemetery is around 6.5 acres. In 1940, the Hancock County Board of Supervisors voted to put a Works Progress Administration (WPA) fence around the cemetery and it was designated in the board meeting minutes that Corinth Cemetery, also referred in the minutes as ‘Turtleskin Cemetery”, to be a public use cemetery. Kellar said that back in that time it appears from reading that he has done that there were not any private cemeteries, but most cemeteries were associated with churches.

Kellar read excerpts from a document detailing a November of 1962 meeting of the Corinth Church stating that a decision was made that whatever NASA offered for the church property, 50 percent of the money would be put into an account to provide for perpetual endowment fund for care, maintenance, and beautification of the cemetery of their current church and a free burial ground.

NASA offered $47,500 to church and the church accepted the amount. The deacons of the church used a portion of the money to purchase the land of the current site of the church in Pearl River County on River Road in the Nicholson community. Kellar said it is believed, from records he found, the pastor held a meeting with the church members and they voted to change the amount of money for the cemetery to be a flat $10,000 instead of the earlier agreed upon amount.

This led to a lawsuit filed in February of 1964 among members of the church against each other, and after much back and back among the lawyers and church members, a decision was finally reached when the judge ordered by decree that $10,000 would be the amount. The originally $47,500 was greatly reduced after the lawyer fees were paid.

Kellar said over the years, the Hancock County Board of Supervisors, like his father Dolph Kellar, had at times used county resources and did not use the Corinth funds to do maintenance on the cemetery. Kellar noted that the supervisors were not obligated to do so legally.

Over those years, the money grew to approximately $12,611 in 1970. Up to this point, Kellar said that the money had set untouched in the account while the Supervisors were providing assistance. Also, during this time, Kellar said that Ms. Lois (Clyde) Meitzler and Mr. Buford Frierson took it upon themselves for approximately 10 to 12 years to seek monetary donations for the cemetery up-keep which provided a small, but steady flow of funding, which was just enough to allow the original $10,000 in the fund to set almost untouched.

Kellar said that during this time in the 1980s, he could not find any record of any funds being used to maintain the cemetery. Also around this time frame, the county government moved to the units system away from the beat system which for the most part put an end to Hancock County supervisors being able to help maintain the cemetery.

Kellar said that when he became involved with the cemetery funding, there was a Commercial Deposit (CD) setup with the money in the amount of approximately $12,000 to $14,000. Kellar said in 1996, he set up an account for Corinth Cemetery to put checks from Meitzler and Frierson collections into the account. Kellar said that it was established to hire someone to cut the grass at the cemetery four times per year (April, June, August, October) using the money in the account. When the account was short, Kellar said he would make a withdrawal from the CD to put money in the account to cover the cost of the four grass cuttings at the cemetery.

Over the past few years, Kellar said that the process has been to allow someone to buried in the cemetery for a fee of $100.00 provided the person had family members and ancestry ties to the cemetery. During this time, Ms. Rosalind Dorr had helped Kellar keep up with the donations and the grave fees ($100.00) in the account. Kellar said there was a fundraiser around 2014-2015 time frame that raised approximately $5,000.00 and that money has been used to maintain the cemetery up until now. Currently, the account has less than $1,000.00 available. Kellar said there is currently not enough money to maintain the cemetery.

After many discussions about the current and past problems with the cemetery by the group, Kellar suggested the group come up with a plan because the majority of the people at the meeting who were concerned about the long-term maintenance were aging. Kellar said the group needs to look at both a short term and long-term plan that could somehow setup funding.

Kellar suggested the group form a committee and have the committee approach the Hancock County Board of Supervisors and ask them to officially declare the cemetery as a public cemetery, which Kellar said would allow the supervisors to have resources allocated with county funding to mow the grass twice per year.

At the same time, it was suggested that a committee be formed to look into possibly forming a 501c(3) to keep governess in place for the cemetery and setup a process for people with relatives in the cemetery to make tax deductible donations.

A committee of five people was formed: Mary Kellar, Rosalind Dorr, Lucien Roberson, Harry Frierson, and Joe Dawsey. The committee will formulate a plan to request the Hancock County Supervisors to make Corinth Cemetery a public cemetery.

In the meantime, donations can still be mailed to Hancock County, c/o Corinth Cemetery Fund, 152 Main Street, Suite A, Bay St. Louis, MS 39520 for anyone who would like to help with the cost of maintaining the cemetery.

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