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Scout seeks to preserve history
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Michael Dale, 17, has spent his past few weekends in a graveyard - not because of a morbid fascination, but to repair damage done to the site by weather and time.

Dale chose to refurbish the family cemetery in North Covington of Dr. William Denson Conyers, an early county settler and prominent physician, as the culminating project for his Eagle Scout status.

About a dozen volunteers and family members have helped Dale in the clean-up process, which he began planning and seeking approval for in late summer.

"The main idea behind the project is not you yourself doing it," Dale said, "but getting people to come out and taking the lead on the project, and doing something good for the community."

So far Dale and his helpers have cleared weeds and vines, dug out dirt around the bottom of the entry gate so it would swing freely and pressure washed and righted headstones.

However, the grunt work is not Dale's ultimate goal.

"Our main objective in addition to getting all the trees out and all the headstones cleaned up is to get a historical marker placed out here," Dale said.

According to books "The History of Newton County" by the Newton County Historical Society and "The Glory of Covington" by William Bailey Williford, Dr. Conyers was one of the first men to buy a lot in Newtonsboro - now Covington - in 1822.

Conyers, originally from North Carolina, fought in the War of 1812. In addition to working as a physician, he sat on the first body of county commissioner, served as a justice in the inferior court from 1833 to 1857 and sat on the board of trustees for the Southern Female College.

"He got interested in promoting the railroad and making sure it came through Newton County," said Jinx Faulkner, Newton County Historical Society cemetery committee member.

Conyers, along with his brother-in-law Gen. John Napier Williamson, also founded the Middle Branch Rail Company. The rail line cut through Conyers' estate, also known as Longwood.

 "Both of them were responsible for bringing the Georgia Railroad through Covington," Charles King, also a cemetery committee member, said.

Williamson is also buried in the plot which Dale is reconditioning.

His military title comes from his association with the Georgia Militia as a brigadier general.

"That was the National Guard in those days," said King.

Williamson also served as an inferior court justice from 1837 to 1857, attended the 1850 state convention as a county candidate, represented the county in the state assembly for two years, served three terms as a state senator and retained guardianship of several estates and orphans.

"He was really a prominent citizen, and the court made a declaration recognizing him on his death date," Faulkner said.

The declaration stated he died after a painful, week-long illness and had the court retire to his funeral.

Various family members of both men are buried in the cemetery including Conyers' son, Major W. D. Conyers who died in the Civil War battle of Spotsylvania and his first wife Elizabeth - who has quite interesting wording on her headstone.

"You don't see this much any more, but her headstone says 'born in North Carolina and consort of William D. Conyers,'" said Monty Laster, cemetery committee member and county commissioner. "It leads you to wonder whether they were legally married."

According to Laster, members of the cemetery committee are in the process of cataloguing all the cemeteries in Newton County.

Laster said Dr. Conyers' cemetery has been on the committee's maintenance list for the past few years, but with 260 cemeteries in the county, they have not been able to do any work there in about five years.

"About two-thirds of the county's cemeteries could be considered abandoned, which is defined as in a state of neglect or having been vandalized," Laster said.

King remembered the event which caused the previous restoration.

"The cemetery had been in a state of benign neglect - no family around - there were stately oak trees and something, drought maybe, caused them to begin to die and large limbs fell and destroyed the stone walls," King said.

King recalled how the county spent a great deal of money using equipment to remove the giant trees. After the trees were removed, the plot was tidied up, but the wall was left crumbling.

"We would like to put the wall back up, but that's going to be an expensive endeavor because of the equipment needed to move the heavy rocks and put them securely back in place," Laster said.

Weeds and vines once again began to choke the Conyers' plot.

The cemetery committee often relies on the kindness of private citizens to assist them in their maintenance of the county's cemeteries because families die out, move away or lose interest.

Laster, King and Faulkner all said they thought the cemetery would be a wonderful place to have a marker if Dale goes through with the application process.

"It's good that these young people are doing this kind of stuff," Faulkner said, "and I think the cemetery board is very grateful for his wanting to clean it up and having an interest in it."