Houston & Peach

Rose Hill Ramble offers a stroll through Macon’s history

Tombstones of a famous Macon architect, the city’s “youngest firefighter” and the gravesides of the victims of a mass murderer were among the stops Sunday on the Rose Hill Ramble.

Jim Barfield, local historian and author, guided the stroll through Macon’s history through a small portion of the 68-acre cemetery. Founded in 1840 by Simri Rose, the cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

About 30 people joined the tour under umbrellas during the rainy afternoon.

“As a former history teacher and as an historian, I believe in history, and of course, these people made history,” said Barfield, who taught at Southwest High School in Macon. “Understanding them and their lives and the times that they lived in and what they contributed is important to understanding our own time.”

Among the first stops on the tour was the 89-year-old tombstone of architect Neel Reid.

“He was a boy genius who seemed to come by architecture naturally,” Barfield said.

Reid’s godfather paid for him to go to architecture school at Columbia University, then to study in Paris “and take the grand tour of Europe, all the while sketching and taking notes,” Barfield said.

Reid worked in Macon and Atlanta.

“But the tragic thing is that he died at the age of 41 of brain tumors, and it’s just amazing the amount of work and the quality of work he did for such a young man,” Barfield said.

More than a dozen of buildings that Reid designed on his own or with his partners are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Alexander Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Ashley Park Historic District in Atlanta and the Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in Decatur.

On Aug. 6, 1887, nine members of the Woolfolk family were murdered with a short-handled ax. Tom Woolfolk was convicted of their murders and hanged in Perry.

The victims buried in Rose Hill Cemetery are his father, Richard F. Woolfolk, his stepmother, Mattie Woolfolk; six of their children; and Temperance West, a relative of Mattie Woolfolk, The victims ranged in age from 18 months to 84 years.

“It’s a mystery over whether Tom Woolfolk is the murderer,” Barfield said. “He was convicted and was hanged, but there are many people who don’t think he was guilty.”

The graveside of John B. Ross Juhan. Macon’s “youngest firefighter” who died at the age of 8, was also visited.

“He was like a mascot of one of the local fire companies,” Barfield said. “The firemen were so devoted to him and his memory that they collected enough money to have an elaborate sculpture done for his tombstone, complete with a little fireman’s cap, belt and jacket, which is just a really touching monument.”

Part of his tombstone reads: “Was A Brave Little Fireman” and “Attached To Defiance Fire Co. No. 5.”

Jack Sammons, his wife and their dog were among those on the tour. They live in Macon and in a second home in Tunbridge, Vermont.

“We’re familiar with Rose Hill, but it’s really nice to hear Jim’s presentation of it,” said Sammons, who taught at Mercer University law school for about 30 years.

“He knows it well, and it makes more interesting. We come over here sometimes to wander around ourselves. But it’s best to do with someone who knows a lot about the cemetery and the markers.”

Sammons said the rambles are important for historical reasons and also to support Rose Hill Ramble as an organization.

“But it’s more fun than it is important, I think,” Sammons said. “I think almost anybody could enjoy it. The stories are terrific.”

There are also interesting connections with current people in Macon, he said.

“You see so many family names that you hear all the time,” Sammons said. “So it’s good. It’s good fun.”

The rambles are held twice a year by Historic Macon Foundation and the Friends of Rose Hill Cemetery.

“If you’re interested in cemeteries or in local history or in interesting stories about people, then put it on your calendar,” Barfield said. “The Sunday before Halloween will be the next one. Then the next year will be the Sunday after Easter.

“And we’ll love to have you come and support Historic Macon and find out about Rose Hill Cemetery.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.