(the above photo is not the cemetery in my story but how I imagine it too look if it had headstones)
Looking for the cemetery in Forks of Coal, WV where my great grandfather Millard Stephens is buried has been a fascinating journey. It started when I asked the question about his death certificate. While doing that research, I became interested in all the places he had lived and then died. My mother often spoke about making the trip up to her grandmother’s house and visiting the cemetery, so I knew the general area and by general, I mean the Alum Creek and Forks of Coal, Kanawha Co. area.
The first thing I did was pull out some old emails from back in 2001 from my aunt and a gentleman that grew up in that area. She had sent me these correspondences long ago and I had them in a Stephens file. In the emails, it mentioned some directions that probably could be followed if you lived there and a story about a man, Jack Workman, living on the property. Well, now I had two clues.
The directions mention a four-lane highway built in the 1980’s crossing the Big Coal River between the Girl Scout Camp and the Cemetery. It also mentions some Hill’s being buried in that cemetery. Then there are the directions of turning off onto Rocky Point Road (not on the map) parking your car and walking down the old dirt road, around a hill, through a creek and back up the other side and on and on. This must have been where one lived when walking to school uphill both ways in the snow.
I pulled up mapquest and zoomed into the Alum Creek area and found the Coal River. Following it down it forked into the Big Coal and Little Coal Rivers. According to the directions and my mom, the property I was looking for was near the Big Coal River where 119 (the four-lane highway) crosses. A quick search of the girl scout camp did not turn anything up but a few blurbs in the paper. Nothing to help. So, the mapping just narrowed the location.
Next, it was plugging in Jack Workman’s name into google. A fabulous article popped up which detailed how he donated this property to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. The article gave a good description of the property and I could easily find it on the map. The actual area is run by the Forks of Coal Foundation and on their site, I found a trail map. According to the trail map, only the area to the north of 119 is open to the public and the cemetery would be south of 119 according to the directions in the emails.
The girl scout camp was not noted on the trail map but on the Facebook Page for the park, a wonderful hiker posted a photo of a plaque indicating the camp (and kindly give permission to use the photo). I contacted the contributor and he said if you follow the trail to the far right of the parking lot the camp was about 50m. Remembering the notes from the email the cemetery should be on the other side of 119 from the camp. I now had a much more approximate location. I would still like to find someone who knows exactly where it is though so I kept searching.
I put a call into the Forks of Coal Foundation and they put me in touch with a gentleman working with the donation of land. He was able to give me the coordinates to the cemetery and old home as he had been to the property. He also had copies of a few old deeds to the land which helped define the borders. We also discussed other names such as Hill and Chandler that might be in that same cemetery but that is a question for another week.
What a wild ride. It just takes asking some questions and it can lead you to the answer. Many thanks to all the individuals who answered my emails and phone calls and shared their knowledge.