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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.