The shorter days and deeper shadows create nicer weather for evening strolls in South Mississippi. On these evenings, I enjoy walking without the threat of being baked and drenched from the South Mississippi heat. I decided to plan a visit to Coalville Cemetery in order to experience the history and scenery in the cooler weather. The perfect afternoon came at the end of September, and I took the short drive to one of the most picturesque cemeteries in Harrison County.
A Little History
Coalville Cemetery grew across the street from Coalville Methodist Church in a community known as Woolmarket. Currently, Woolmarket is within the city limits of what is now north Biloxi. Coalville happened to be the original name of the community because the first industry was burning pine trees for coal. Settlers shipped the coal to New Orleans and Mobile. The coal industry bowed down to wool which proved more profitable.
The community built the original chapel in 1852 and lasted until 1967. Records suggest that settlers had services and Sunday school pre-1850. It was not easy to live on the Gulf Coast in the 1800s. There was an array of struggles due to the warm weather and mosquito borne diseases. The residence called the original building “The Old Rough and Ready” as it also served as a schoolhouse and meeting hall.
A bigger chapel, consecrated in 1968, replaced the original. Mr. Albert Felsher used some of the lumber to make a wooden cross that still hangs over the choir loft. Through all these changes the cemetery was always the silent presence across the road.
Coalville is close to my heart and family. I am a direct descendent of many Coalville families. I also spent the later part of my childhood living in Woolmarket when we moved there. The Reverend Louis Fayard was a noteworthy figure in the community. He was a circuit court rider that would travel by horseback in order to conduct weddings, funerals, and services. Many friends and family speak of him like a local folk hero. He is also a resident of Coalville Cemetery.
Stories Among the Stones and Moss
Coalville Cemetery, at the time of the post, has at least 2,270 interments according to Find a Grave. The historic wrought iron gate still stands as entry way to the historic gravestones. I love the moss hanging over the massive oak trees next to the chapel, and enjoy strolling down the hill. Most of the older gravesites are closer to the church and entry gate. If you know how to look, you can easily be transported into time.
“Remember me as you pass by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now so you must be, Prepare for death and follow me.”
The tomb of Sarah Azolean Wedgeworth impacts me the most. She has an above ground burial, and was only 19 years old at the time of her death. She passed September 4, 1857 making her one of the earliest in the cemetery. However, the poem under her name will give you chills!
The poem is fading, but is certainly still there.
When I arrived that Sunday evening, the sun had begun to set with the slightest hint of fall coming. I wandered around the old section and ended visiting both of my maternal family lines in the family plots. Each plot tells a story and each one I find interesting. On this visit, I noticed the close death dates of two Felsher children and their mother the summer of 1885.
It is easy to find the stories of other stones and families also interesting. I became curious of some of the markings on the tombstones throughout the cemetery. Therefore, I made a list and went on a search for the subliminal meanings.
Common Symbols at Coalville Cemetery:
- Lamb-The lamb, also a symbol of Jesus, shows the grave of a baby or child. Stones with this symbol mark the grave of a child or baby land. A baby land is a plot specifically for infants. (As far as I know, Coalville does not have one.)
- Urn-It represents immortality. If a shroud is present, it ‘guards’ the ashes or urn.
- Rose-The rose represents a young girl or woman who has passed. The state of the rose is important to understand the age of the deceased. A bud would be a very young girl, partial bloom is a teenager, and a rose in full bloom I a young unmarried woman.
- Anchor-It symbolizes hope and steadfastness. It is also the mark for a sailor. With Coalville’s proximity to the Gulf Coast this symbol is very common around the grounds.
- Book-Although it is known for its scholarly meanings, it has other meanings when on headstones. It can have a dual symbolism as the Bible or the Book of Life.
- 5 Point Star or Pentangle- I was curious about this mark the most. I wondered if it actually had a less traditional meaning than the others. It actually represents the five wounds of Christ and the spirit rising to Heaven. Remember, the star always is bright against the darkness.
Another interesting feature within the grounds of Coalville Cemetery are the seashells loosely placed on the top of headstones. This is a Victorian tradition commonly seen in southeastern states. Along with being used as decorations, the shells symbolize in a pilgrimage and can later represent a safe crossing into the afterlife. The shells are often the conch shell or scallop shell. However, at Coalville I found shells of the lightening whelk. The lightening whelk is common along the Gulf of Mexico and can be found easily locally by beachcombers visiting the barrier islands.
Other Notable Interments
Coalville Cemetery has many notable people buried on the grounds. The grounds host at least nine Civil War soldiers. There are also interments for Word War I, World War II, and many others. There are many past graduates of Woolmarket School when it went elementary to high school.
If you would like to learn more about the people buried in Coalville or a specific family member I recommend researching them. There are many free and helpful sources online. You can also visit the local genealogy library. I wrote a helpful article in April about some things to prepare for a visit to the library here.
I encourage everyone in the area to respectfully visit and observe the quiet beauty of Coaville Cemetery. Coalville Cemetery is located at 12556 Lorraine Road Bilox, MS 39532
Do you have any family buried here? Where is your favorite historical spot on the Mississippi Gulf Coast?