Last month, I wrote about history as being something like a puzzle. We have to gather all the jagged pieces and then put them together to see the big picture, so to speak. Thanks to the devoted work and research of a number of people in Central Louisiana who have volunteered their time, effort and labor, we are beginning to find out more about the historic resting place of some of the leaders and citizens of our past in Rapides Cemetery.
Mayor Clarence Fields and the city government of Pineville, Father Chad Partain, Bobby Hynson and many local volunteers, as well as even a few local companies, have worked tirelessly for the past more than a year on cleaning and surveying the cemetery grounds. It is a hard task in cold and hot Louisiana weather. The cemetery appears to trace back to the late 1700’s or perhaps a little after. The exact date is unknown. It was placed near or on the original Post on the Rapides. It started as a trading post at the beginning of the rapids on the Red River. From this post, Alexandria and Pineville began, and the site is currently listed on the National Historic Register. The Historical Association of Central Louisiana, its members and board of directors have thrown their support to the cleaning and restoration of the cemetery.
I am not going to dwell on its known history at this time. There is more to find out. Many mysteries remain to be solved. We need to uncover more facts; put more pieces of the puzzle together. Several families represented have streets named after them in Central Louisiana. A General is buried there as well as the founder of Alexandria, Alexander Fulton, though his grave is yet to be located.
One of things that needs to be found is a book or booklet on a survey done by and published by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1922. We have been unable to locate a copy. Have you seen or know of this study? In your family’s past are there records or information about the Rapides Cemetery? Anything that can fill in some of the missing links in this long progression of time would be most helpful. Additionally, we can assume that part of the original cemetery land was washed away by the Red River over time, and that the levee covers a section of it.
Do you have any old photographs of the area? That would help in the work tremendously. The older, the better! The grave stones and monuments are in the process of being restored to their former splendor. Trees have been pruned or removed. The ornamental iron work rivals that of the graveyards of New Orleans. The inscriptions on the monuments tell a story of this area’s past. Many unmarked graves have been located. Over the years, some restoration has been done, but I believe that this current project will hopefully uncover more of the pieces of this puzzle.
Many articles and books have chronicled the history of the Rapides Cemetery. Let’s see if we can come up with more information. Remember, if you stand back and look at this resting place, it is where it all began. Names like Wells, Fulton, Meullion, Bogan, Bringhurst, Poussin, Casson, Graham, Hynson, Baillio, Scallon and Hunter are all there. Some of their descendants are still in Central Louisiana today!
I have included some photographs of several tombstones as they stand today. You really have to walk the grounds to feel the tremendous history of Alexandria and Pineville that began several hundred years ago on that place on the Red River at the foot of the lower rapids.
If you have any information, contact a member of the Historical Association of Central Louisiana or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, and take time to walk through the Rapides Cemetery and imagine the history that resides there.