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Discovering the lost Bethany Cemetery

POSTED: October 3, 2013 7:29 p.m.
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Otto Gnann planted laurel oaks when Bethany Cemetery was reclaimed and markers were erected in 1989.

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The Bethany Cemetery was once a major burial ground. That was during colonial times when Bethany was an active and vigorous farming community with a church and a school.


At the church — located about five miles north of New Ebenezer — was the community’s burial ground. Grave markers, believed to have been of the old wooden style, no longer existed by the 20th century; and by that time, the old historic burial ground was mostly  forgotten.


However, there was new interest in the location of Bethany Cemetery when in 1986 an old pencil-drawn map of Bethany fell from a book that had been owned by the Rev. S.S. Rahn (1845 -1911). The map was discovered by Pastor Rahn’s granddaughter, Alice Rahn Loest, of Jacksonville, Fla.


Pastor Rahn, a native of Effingham County, apparently was the map maker.  Of interest on the map was the location of the church, school and cemetery, which Pastor Rahn showed at a location just north of Michael’s Creek. In the 1980s, it was believed that the church property had been south of the little creek that flowed into the Savannah River.


Most interested in the old map of Bethany were two devotees of Salzburger and early county history, Milton Rahn, Alice’s cousin, and the Rev. Raymond Davis.


An intensive search of old records of the land north of Michael’s Creek was conducted by Pastor Davis. This led him to discover old land plats identifying the colonial church land at the spot designated on Pastor Rahn’s map.


In the late 19th century, the burial ground came to be known as the Crews Cemetery, an Anglicized form of the German name Kraus, the family that had purchased the land when Bethany Church ceased to exist after the Revolutionary War.


After ascertaining the actual location of the cemetery, the site was re-surveyed, and the old cemetery ground also was cleared of weeds and underbrush that had grown on the land. In 1989 and 1990, Daniel and Rita Elliott, professional archaeologists, conducted two digs at the site, digs that confirmed burials at the place. Both the Georgia Salzburger Society and Historic Effingham Society supported the early restoration activity, and in 1989, the GSS placed three memorial stones at the site.


During the years 1988-1994, the GSS Bethany Cemetery Committee was very active in the restoration and maintenance of the site.  Members were Vince Exley, project chair, Charles Gnann, Otto Gnann, Gracie Helmly, Julia Rahn, Pauline Seckinger, Norman Turner and Walter Zoller. During these years, Historic Effingham Society leaders Milton Rahn, Betty Rahn Waller, Lynette Jones, H.L. “Sonny” Zittrouer and others also were very active in supporting cemetery restoration activities.


Since 1994, Norman Turner has been the GSS Bethany Cemetery chair, and he has faithfully maintained the old sacred burial ground where the remains of many of the county’s first citizens were laid to rest long, long ago.


This was written by Vince Exley of Marietta. Photos were compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at hesexleyherald@aol.com.

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