Old Shiloh Cemetery still place to picnic

 

As early as the 1800s, Old Shiloh Cemetery in Rusk County was a place of fellowship.

Families came together each year for a summer picnic, where they sang, enjoyed a potluck meal and remembered their loved ones.

"It was the highlight of Rusk County. There would be thousands of people show up, (and) I heard stories of people coming up in their horse-drawn wagon," cemetery sexton Paul Jett said.

The tradition remains intact today, although on a smaller scale. This year's picnic is set for July 6 at the cemetery, off Texas Highway 315, about 6 miles from Mount Enterprise.

Old Shiloh is one of the oldest cemeteries in Rusk County with the first reported burial, of Mrs. Maranda Gilbreath, taking place in the fall of 1853, according to a historical account.

Jett, 46, said it was years later that the property was donated as cemetery land. According to a historical account, Josiah Johnson conveyed land in the late 1850s to Shiloh Baptist Church.

"It was stated that his purpose was that this be ‘a special gift for the purpose of building a church house and that the said 6 acres of land not be used for any other purpose save that of burying the dead, which be a free graveyard for any and all that may choose to, or wish to, bury their dead at said grave yard,'" the account reads.

Jett said multiple parcels were donated over the years, and at one time, there were two church buildings on the property.

He said the picnic tradition began in 1876, when people met with friends and packed a lunch because it was an all-day endeavor to clean the cemetery. The occasion became known as the "Shiloh Picnic," Jett said, and was held in July.

The picnic never was as big as a carnival, he said, but as it grew, it was a place people came to spend July 4 together.

Old Shiloh Cemetery Committee Chairman Joe White, 70, said various generations showed up at the picnics.

"It was just a big social event every year," White said. "You just looked forward to going to Shiloh. Many of the families knew each other."

He said he remembers his family members preparing food, such as fried pies and chicken and dumplings.

"It wasn't uncommon for you to go from one family spread to another, and you were welcome to do that," White said.

White said there was a concession area at the cemetery, and in the old days, people sold soft drinks and ice cream cones to raise money for the cemetery.

As far as music, attendees sang hymns in the church house and would have singing groups come in, Jett said.

However, he said the picnic's heyday has passed with last year's picnic drawing about 200 people.

Many people give their donations for the cemetery at the picnic, he said.

There also have been improvements to the cemetery in recent years, including additional flagpoles. Jett said they've also repaved and paved more roadways around the cemetery and planted crepe myrtles.

This year, he said the big renovation is putting in marble benches.

 

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