Patoka Grove Church and Williams Cemetery

For many of us whose families lived and worked in the Muren, Maryville, Massey, and Turkey Hill areas of Pike County, we laid our loved ones to rest at Williams Cemetery near Patoka Grove Church. The timeworn cemetery has been known as Massey Cemetery and Whitman Cemetery but is now referred to officially as Williams Cemetery. It is older than the long-standing church it surrounds. It is a place of peace for me. I go there whenever I want to walk around in the quiet, mull over life’s mysteries, dwell on a problem, or remember someone I loved who is buried there. My family graves lie in a row directly behind the church, a long length of empty grass awaiting the next to join them.

In the autumn of 2004, my stepdaughter, Kristen Beyke of Sarasota, Florida, was visiting to attend a family funeral. She was majoring in photo journalism at the University of Florida at the time. She was so pleased to be here in the fall when the leaves were changing colors. She wanted to shoot photos of the blazing countryside and some old country churches. She took this photo of the Williams Cemetery and Patoka Grove United Methodist Church and it has become one of my favorite photos of that place.

Patoka Grove Church and Williams Cemetery

Patoka Grove Church and Williams Cemetery

There is much history surrounding the church and that burying ground, many stories to be told and some forever to be left untold.

My memories of attending Patoka Grove Church are all from my childhood in the 1960s. Like most children, the sermons were boring and too complicated for a 6 year old mind to wrap around. But the singing….I loved the singing… The hymn “In the Garden” was one I adored the most. I always stood with my grandma whenever they would sing that song.

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses. And he walks with me, and he talks with me…”

My Mamma Evans and I both prized flowers. On Decoration Day, not the Monday Government Memorial Day holiday that we celebrate now, but actual Decoration Day on May 30th when we honored the war dead , she and I would decorate the graves of our family at Williams Cemetery. We did not buy a fancy silk saddle or vase of colorful fake flowers. We walked the fence rows and yards of old home places that no longer existed and wandered along the roadsides, filling up tin cans wrapped in aluminum foil with flowers we would cut. I could not describe to you a single silk flower memorial I have decorated a grave with over the past few years, but I could describe to you the smell of the yellow roses we cut on Mary and Sampy Corn’s fencerow, the bees swarming the sweetpeas we cut along Number 7 road, and the deep red color of the peonies from Ma Bolin’s old home place. For years after the Government in 1971 made Memorial Day the official 3 day weekend on the third Monday of May, my Mamma refused to acknowledge it, she would take her flowers to the cemetery on Decoration Day. As she got older, she conceded to the new Memorial Day, but she still grumbled about it. Decoration Day was a languid day to spend hours at the Cemetery. Money was collected for care of the graveyard. Lunch was eaten there that day. Lawn chairs would appear from car trunks. It was a time to catch up with friends, family and neighbors. Kids would sit under the cedar trees on the hill in the “Old Part”, sometimes reading the grave markers of the children in the cemetery, retelling stories about how some had died and curious about the others.

Patoka Grove Church

Patoka Grove Church

Easter is another treasured memory of Patoka Grove . Even if the grown ups could not afford a new dress, the little girls always had their new Easter bonnets, pastel dresses, white patent leather Mary Janes, and wicker purses. Patoka Grove held an easter egg hunt each year in the field next to the church. I always wanted to be the one to find the Gold Egg that would win you a prize, but I never did. Each year however, the hope would be renewed that I might.

Easter Finery

Easter Finery

We attended Bible School there, tediously gluing together countless craft sticks, sprinkling glitter on paper plates and pasta, and when we were older stitching together a leather wallet. We would lay out all of our treasures on a long table in the basement for our family to admire on the night of the Bible School program. At Christmas Santa came to the basement and we had a treat from him. We would all have to remember our “piece” for the program. We would draw the little cut and folded pieces of paper out of a basket . I always hoped mine was short because I very much disliked standing in front of people. If my little brothers drew a harder one my mom would make me trade with them.

More Easter Bonnets

More Easter Bonnets

Our family held noteworthy events at that church and basement. Weddings, wedding receptions, baby showers, bridal showers all were at Patoka Grove. There weren’t big catered meal, kegs of beer, or dancing. We had a decorated cake, dinner mints and nuts. The cake was usually made by another of our Church friends. My Mamma made punch with pineapple juice, 7up and sherbert. We used the fancy glass punch bowl and cups, right beside our color coordinated paper plates and napkins. We made rice bags with toile and ribbons. Gifts were opened and displayed so that family and friends could appreciate them. After funerals all of the church ladies would make their best potluck dishes and a meal would be served to the family. Those are the best memories.

My Aunt and Uncle

My Aunt and Uncles Wedding Reception in the Church basement

You cannot have attended Patoka Grove without remembering old Perlina Whitman. An early recollection of mine is of my Grandma taking me with her to a Ladies Meeting at Perlina’s old farmhouse next to the railroad tracks on Number 7 Road. Perlina had no electricity, used kerosene lamps and had a lot of antiques. I had the stern “Don’t you touch anything” warning before we arrived. This day made an impression on me because my Grandma made a Baked Alaska. She opened a carton of Neopolitan ice cream, whipped up a meringue to smear on it and put that in the oven. I was so young and could not figure out baking ice cream.

One of the earliest graves at Williams Cemetery is that of Joshua Massey. He was born in 1795 and died in 1844. He was the father of Wash Massey, the man that the coal mining town and community of Massey was named for. Wash Massey married Lou Bolin (a possible ancestor of mine). Lou was the daughter of Jarrett Bolin. Her sister Phebe married Horace Williams. Many of the children’s graves we would wonder about on the hill under the cedar trees were the children of Wash and Lou Massey. When Joshua died, his sister had a gravestone delivered from Maryland by oxen to the cemetery for his grave. In the early 1890s the Massey school was built and doubled as the community church. In 1892, at a revival meeting held at the school, the congregation decided to have a church built. Lumber was cut and seasoned. Wash and Lou Massey deeded one half acre of land for the building. In 1894, the church was built and located in a grove of trees not far from the Patoka River in Massey, hence the name Patoka Grove. Like the cemetery, it was also called Massey Church. In 1934, the church members decided to move the church to a more accessible location. Since there was no church at Williams Cemetery, they decided to move the church there. Curtis and Lyda Williams donated the land. The church was moved about a mile to it’s present site. It took 18 ½ days to move the church at a cost of $226.00. Donations paid for the move. The movers made $2.00 a day, except Mr. Harper who furnished the horses, he earned $4.00 a day. The history remembers Lyda Williams and Perlina Whitman, who kept the church open in 1946 to 1951 when there was no minister, just them, a few children and a pot bellied stove in the center of the church. The church has been updated in the 1950s and the 1980s, but still retains it quaint charm as a little country church.

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16 comments on “Patoka Grove Church and Williams Cemetery

  1. Russell Simpson says:

    You have done a wonderful job describing Patoka Grove Church and Williams Cemetery.
    I am familiar with it because we lived on the next road South before State Road 64. It used to be referred to as the Old Winslow Road by the people in Oakland City. From the Patoka Grove Road on the road we lived on toward Oakland City the residents I recall were: Clarks, parents of Ralph who lived just North of Coe in his adult life. Later in the same house lived the Tisdales of Kentucky(I think). On the Southe side of the road and West of the Clarks/Tisdales was the Morley Clark house.It was later used by Cecil and Mary McKinney and their daughter Sue. Still later the Robert Johnston family lived there. The house still stands in good repair. Farther West was the Algers, Winslow and Western Railroad and an S-curve to the creek. On the right was a house that I believe was rented and I think the earliest families I recall were the Kings and Boles families in the 1950s and 60s. Next on the left or South side of the road lived the Ransom and Estelle Nixons. I do not know how long their sons lived there. But they were Judge Lester Nixon of the Pike County Circuit Court and Victor Nixon who taught school along with his wife in the Jasper Schools. Her name was Olline Bell Nixon. Crossing the Southern Railroad track, on the right/North side of the road lived (I think their given names are right)Charles and Maude Comer. Their son Russell and his wife Hazel later lived there. I only remember their youngest son James living there with them although they had other older children already married. Next on the left/South side was our home and the Southern Railroad at the back edge of our homeplace. My Father was Cecil Simpson and he bought the place from Floyd Phillips in the 1940s. My Mother was Mary Penina Wheeler Simpson and my siblings were Joel Royce, Virginia Mae, Jerry Lee and me, Russell Elwood. We were the last home in Pike County for a long time but in 1960 or 70 two or three more houses were built on the South side of the road. The names are slipping by me right now but Harold Jones was one family name.

  2. Jim Jones says:

    My great,great grandmother was Sarah (Bolin) Jones. She was the daughter of Alexander Bolin and I think his father was Jarrett Bolin and he had a brother named Jarrett. Bob Bolin here in Washington is a friend of mine and for years I have thought we must be kin. Bob’s dad was Denver,his grandfather was Aaron. When I saw you mention Lou Bolin,daughter of Jarrett Bolin as being an ancestor of yours, I thought I might be right. Please contact me

  3. Judy Tweedy says:

    You have a few errors in your information about the Patoka Grove Church. My mother was Golden Huhes,the daughter of Hiram Corinth”Rhent” Hughes. He had a sister,Mary Ellen Hughes who m, Kel Riley. They had a daugthter,Lyde Riley who m. Curtis Williams. The Williams family were quite well off. Lyde wasw a lot older than my motther but she and her sibhlings used to go to her cousin,Lyde’s home to play alot. She said that their home was a mansion that looked like Tara on Gone with the wind. However,the house burned down several years ago,but the tree that they swung from still stands. Lyde and Curtis’ g grandaugher rebuilt their home there. She is the record keeper of the church. Lyde donated the land for the cemetery,and I think that most of those etered there are family. She later haed the chuch moved there. M:y grandfather,2 of his and grandma;s children are there,as well as most of Lyde’s children and aun;t Mary’ Ellen’s children are buried there. As well as my g grandmother Martha Melvina English Dean Hughes and all of her children,her two from her first husband William Edger Dean who left her a young widow with two sons and her second husband,Hiram H.Hughes who left her with a young son and daughter,Hiraam C. and Mary eLLEN

  4. J. Tweedy says:

    Sense I have last posted,I have learned from another cousin,a grandaughter of Mary ellen Hughes Riley’s that a storm blew the branch that my mother and her siblings swung on down,but the old tree still stands. Lyde and Curtis’ house was right across the road from the church. Gaunt Mary Ellen Hughes Riley and her husband Kel lived just down the road. They had 12 children of ther own and raised a grandaughter,Golden Bolen along with their brood after their daughter died in childbirth. Do not recall her husband Bolin’s first name,but he eidently did not want to raise her. I would absolutely love to wander those old cemeteries with you sometime,as I too love them,love to dig up old things,just anything old is sacred to me. there are so many of the names from down there that are names which are in my family. we once took my mother down there when she was quite old,trying to find her dad’s grave to put a marker on it. Howeer,she could not find it,and the record keeper,who is also a doubly related cousin,has no records of where he is. The old ones in the family remember him being buried there,and having got his deth certificate,it says that he was buried tahere,but we can not find out where. Mom has been gone 5 yrs now at the age of almost 98,so I would still like to put amonument on his grave fora her. Do you know anyone who could recall where he is in williams Cemetery. He was Hiram Corinth “Rhent” Hughes.He worked in the coal mines,helped found the Coal miners Union and was the auditor of it for the state of Indiana. Mother was born on the old ? Hawthorn Place. Lived most of her childhood at the coal minning town old Old Logstown Rd out of Ayshire. She was Martha A. Beard Hughes. She was a midwife and a folk medicine “doctor”. People used to come to her when th ey could not get to old Dr. Detar,the Dr. who took care of the minners and their famlies. their were 5 of their children who lived,mother,GOlden Lydia,Huey,Cecil,Butaun,and Bonnie. Would love to know anyone who knew any of them,and if anyone could learn where grandpa was buried in Williams Cem. They also had 2 babies who died who are there someplace.I also have a nice newspaper artical about cousin Lyde donating the church and land which I got from the library there.Mother and her family ususaly went to the church in the little church in Ayrshire,we found that when we went there,also the school,but it is a house,now. Tried to find the house in Logtown,but there is not much there now,but a lot of run down trailers and the colored cemetery. As a realy small child,she used to run off and go down there,and they would come and get grandma who would be hunting her. Mother was a towhead and not hard to spot in that church. She and her brother,Huey used to walk the railroad to go to Winslow to the movies or store. Could tell you so many neat stories that she told me that they did down there as kids. Some funny,happy and some the sad stories of poor children. They are all gone now. Mother died last,just 12 days after her baby sister,5 yrs ago this past May. I would seriously love to go out wondering with you down there some day. Please let me kmow if you would like to do so amd perhaps I can get down there. I live in Hancock Co. they also lived in Francisco,where she attended H.S. in Princeton. They also lived in Bicknel for a while.Guess they followed the work,and grandpa farmed for people when he was out on strike. Most of the family were miners,inclucing g uncle Kel(Cyrus McClelne Riley) Grandpa’s half bros were william and John Dean.Grandma’s siblings were Catherine Beard who m. will Cannon,Louvina m.Judd Fettinger,Maude m. elija Jerrell,Lucy m. a Nance can’t remember his first name now,and Cleveland m. Lena Powers. All Pike Countians,and all the girls were second wies,all widowed except grandpa who was divorced from etta Bell Baxter, their daughter was Laura Belle Hughes,but the family lost track of her. But I now know that she was m.several times and she and her mother ended up in N.C. Mom wanted to find her too,but I leaned too late,they were both gone before I did.
    Nice chatting with you and hope to hear from you,soon. I know that we have to be kin,no only from the mutual names,but also from the odd habit of loveing to go rambling in cemetieries and digging up old stuff!
    Yours,Judy

  5. Marty Powers says:

    Great local history. My great grandmother was known to me as Mommy Williams and Grandpa was Poppy
    Mommy and Poppy Williams was always how I knew them. They lived there next to the church and cemetery. Went there quite a few times as a child. thanks for the memories. Marty Powers

  6. Neva Rae Powers says:

    This sight is SO interesting! I well remember playing in the cemetery and attending the church as a child. My great grandparents were Curtis and Lyda Williams and though we moved from the area when I was small, we returned often. I particularly recall a family re-union held at the Williams home. Thanks to my brother Marty for providing me with this link.

  7. Judy says:

    Neva Rae,we are related,as you note,Lyde Riley Williams was my mom’s first cousin. Have you done any research on the Hutghes family (Mary Ellen Hughes Riley was my mother’s aunt)? I have came to a blank when I got to grandpa’s grandpa George S. Hughs/Hughes. Still searching for my grandpa’s grave Also Martha Melvian English Hughes/Hughs was m. to Hiram H. Hughes/Hughs. They we3re the parents of my grandpa,Hiram C. Hughes. Anyway,she has a large monument with her inscription on it stating that she was the wife of Hiram Hughes.,but I wonder if anyone knows where HE is buried. Is he on one side of the pillar type monument? It does not have his name on it. Have not found where he is buried at.

  8. Andrew says:

    Thank you for posting this. I believe my great-great-grandfather Thomas Riley was buried at Williams Cemetery around 1928 but have not been able to locate any information on that. Do you know of any records I might look at?

    • rose says:

      James Whitfield Riley – father of David Harrison Riley-
      David was the father of 6 sons, one of which was Stephen Criss Riley-
      Stephen Criss Riley was the father of Cyrus Mclellan by his wife Martha Jane Sharp (Cash) Their 3rd child was Charles Thomas
      David Harrison Riley had 10 children, one of which was Thomas Edward born 1882

      We found this information, if it is helpful.

  9. rose says:

    Our great great aunt Clara Dixon was married to a Thomas Riley. But he died in the 1950s. I’ll ask around for you.

    • Neva Rae Powers says:

      I am just now reading all of the posts again. I see you already replied to me about Lyda and Clyde, my great grandparents. I will ask my Mom (Dorothy McInturf Powers) about Mary Ellen.

    • Neva Rae Powers says:

      I asked my Mom about Mary Ellen Hughes but she does not know anything about her or the family. Sorry.

  10. Clint Fenwick says:

    Great post, Rose! You know this place is very near and dear to my family and I!

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