Henderson County, Kentucky Cemetery


General Hopkins, Lucy Audubon
Rest in peace, near anonymity in
Overgrown oasis near Zion

By Judy Jenkins

Henderson's first cemetery also has the dubious distinction of being Henderson's most neglected cemetery.

Situated about half a mile from Zion Road, the final resting place of the community's founder, General Samuel HOPKINS, sits like an island surrounded by a sea of young corn.

Comprising approximately half an acre, the cemetery is a tangled mass of fallen limbs, broken tombstones, waist-high weeds, briar bushes and clinging vines.

It's barely recognizable as a cemetery.

The fence surrounding it is virtually buried beneath the lush growth, and sections of it have bowed to vandalism and the erosion of time.

Here and there, a portion of tombstone peeks through the leaves. Most, however, lie face down against the black soil. When turned over, the inscriptions are barely legible. Moss fills the indentations made by the stylized lettering.

Somewhere in the thicket is the grave of Lucy AUDUBON, the daughter of naturalist and wildlife artist John James AUDUBON. Her headstone has been broken and propped against the fence, evidently to serve as a foothold for crossing one of the tall remaining sections.

Those who revere history are saddened by the condition of the cemetery, but add that they're powerless to do anything about it.

“We aren't allowed back there,” one of them said. “We have to cross the property of Mrs. Pearl PRUITT, and she allows only the direct descendants of those buried there to have access to the cemetery.”

While cemetery itself doesn't belong to the PRUITT family, the surrounding 51 acres do.

Members of the General Samuel HOPKINS chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution are alarmed that the cemetery eventually will revert to the PRUITTS.

“As I understand it,” says Mrs. Lucille GRIFFIN, former regent of the DAR, “if the property isn't cared for (over) a period of 10 years, it reverts to the owner of the surrounding property.”

Then, according to what the D.A.R. has learned, “the tombstones can be taken up and the land plowed over.”

Mrs. Hallie LINDSAY, another former D.A.R. regent, reports that several committees have been appointed by that group in the last 15 years to see what can be done about preserving the cemetery for posterity.

“We've run into a lot of dead ends,” she sighs. “The ideal thing would be if the cemetery could be made into a state shrine and visited by tourists. To do that, however, a road would have to be put in there and the owner doesn't want one.”

More than one person has suggested that the right of eminent domain be exercised and the property condemned.

Dr. Daniel MORIARTY is an outspoken advocate of that approach.

“About five years ago I tried to interest the city and county in making a concentrated effort to obtain that land.” Says the former city commissioner. “If the owner won't sell, I believe the right of eminent domain should be used. It's my opinion that at least 40 acres should be acquired and developed as a park with the cemetery set aside as a landmark. There's no question the city is growing that way and a park is badly needed out there. What better place than at that site, where the father of the community is buried?”

MORIARTY says nothing was done about obtaining the property when he was in office because “there simply wasn't enough money. I don't think that's the case now, though. There are revenue sharing funds, and also some national money available for projects like that.”

State Representative Gross Clay LINDSAY admits to being a history buff and says he would like to see the cemetery preserved. He adds, however, “I'm not sold on the idea of exercising eminent domain.”

Mrs. Susan BONNELL, a descendant of General Samuel HOPKINS, is in favor of exploring various means to save the cemetery for posterity.

The teacher of Kentucky History at South Junior High School became agitated last winter when she heard a developer was eyeing the property.

“Something has got to be done,” she insists, “to keep this important reminder of our town's history intact. Samuel HOPKINS was the actual founder of Henderson, no matter how much tribute is given to Richard HENDERSON.

HENDERSON never even laid eyes on this territory. It was HOPKINS who laid off the streets. Starting on March 30, 1797, he proceeded to draw up plans with four streets paralleling the river for two and one half miles, intersected by 25 cross streets.

“General HOPKINS is the man we can thank for those wonderful, hundred foot wide streets. He made them that wide as a precaution against fire spreading from one side of a street to another. He was also an early experimenter with crops and found what things would grow best in this area.

“Next year I'm teaching a new course called ‘the heritage of Henderson,' General HOPKINS is a vital part of that heritage. His grave and those around it also are part of our heritage.

“What better time than Memorial Day to commit ourselves to preserving it.”

Reprinted with permission from The Gleaner, Sunday, May 29, 1977

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS