The Mounds Cemetery, which marks the site of one of Arkansas' earliest settlements, as well as a significant Caddo Indian holy place, has been formally listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The designation was announced by the Department of Arkansas Heritage in Little Rock.
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Director Frances McSwain, a direct descendant of Edward Johnson, Sr., among the earliest settlers of the area, said Thursday she was personally thrilled with the designation.
“There are so many layers to this story,” McSwain said. “I am a descendant of Edward Johnson, Sr., who was one of the first settlers of that area. And, we are so appreciative of the landowner, Miss Emma Loop, who allowed the cemetery to get the designation.”
McSwain said a plan for preservation of the cemetery has not yet been established, since it lies on private property.
“It's difficult in these rural areas where the families have moved away,” she said. “We're looking, but we don't have anyone, yet.”
Peggy Lloyd, director of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archive, at Historic Washington State Park, said Thursday the cemetery is among the most important historical sites in Southwest Arkansas.
“It's a very historic cemetery; the mounds, themselves, are actually Caddo Indian burial mounds that date from about 1200 A.D.,” Lloyd said. “These were some of the most influential families in Southwest Arkansas who settled that area.”
She said there is no local plan in place to preserve the cemetery, but the National Register of Historic Places designation should help in encouraging the development of a plan.
“It needs to be carefully preserved,” Lloyd said. “It's on private property, and the property owner has been very cooperative. I would like to see some preservation plan put forth.”
Lloyd suggests that the state parks system could take on the preservation of the cemetery under the auspices of Historic Washington State Park and maintain its as an unmanned state site. She noted that other parks in the area are similarly maintained.
Background included in the nomination documents note that burials at the site are known to have taken place between 1819 to 1955.
“The burials in Mounds Cemetery are placed on top of Native American mounds in a cleared field,” the nomination document states. “...Mounds Cemetery is the resting place of primarily the Johnson family and the extended family members of their children. Two Native American mounds are covered with 19th and 20th Century monuments of the family.
“The people interred at Mounds Cemetery were instrumental in the settlement of Hempstead County through their business and political interests,” the nomination states.
Lloyd said that Edward Johnson, Sr., who is believed to have served in the American Revolutionary War, is known to have settled in the Columbus area by 1818. His tomb in the Big Mound section of the cemetery was marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution with a bronze marker in 1954.
Page 2 of 2 - According to the nomination documents, Johnson and his son, Edward Johnson, Jr., bought about 480 acres of public land.
“Edward Johnson, Jr., was involved in providing supplies for the Choctaws on their way through the country during Removal. Several related family members were doctors and merchants in Columbus and Washington, Hempstead County,” according to the documents
A total of 83 burials are preserved at the site, dating from 1819, the year Hempstead County was organized, to 1959. The earliest of the burials is that of one-year old Greenville Cheatham, Jr., according to the AHPP.
Damage to some of the markers has resulted from tree limbs falling during bad weather, but “...the majority of the markers are legible and the names of 83 members of the original local 19th Century planter families who worked the land in the area can be found in Mounds Cemetery,” the documents note.
“Although many of the historic homes of the early families have been moved, the feeling of a rural farming community endures,” the AHPP nomination states. “The Mounds Cemetery ensures that the story of Columbus and the roles of the people buried within its settlement continues.”
Today, Columbus is centered around a few late 19th Century homes, after the remnants of the late 19th Century business district on Arkansas Highway 73 were destroyed by private property owners.
Woodlawn, the home of Major William Johnson, grandson of Edward Johnson, Sr., was moved from its site on Plum Creek near Columbus to Historic Washington State Park, and preserved there in 1990, the document notes.