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Sadler Cemetery Tour brings history to life

Oct. 5 upwards of 30 people attended a free guided tour of Sadler Cemetery on North Jackson Avenue in Russellville as part of an ongoing series of bicentennial events being held in celebration of two hundred years of Russellville, Franklin County and the state of Alabama.

Volunteers dressed in period clothing gave in-character speeches as some of the people who are buried there. 

“In this cemetery are some of the most prominent founding members of this town,” said Franklin County Archives Director and Bicentennial Committee Chairperson Chris Ozbirn. “Among them are four doctors, four lawyers, two probate judges and a state representative.” Ozbirn said while not everyone in the cemetery is related, “there’s not two graves unconnected in some way.” 

Ozbirn said while Sadler Cemetery is one of the oldest in town, Old Town Cemetery is older. 

Sadler Cemetery, per a list compiled in 1974, has 73 graves; however, Ozbirn said unmarked graves have been discovered since. The oldest grave is that of the Rev. David Owen, who died in 1830. The most recent is that of James A. Drake, who died in 1945. 

Shannon Wilson portrayed William Sale, a Franklin County circuit court clerk and member of the Franklin County Bar, as he guided visitors to each stop. Wilson’s daughter, Sarah Kate Wilson, was also in period attire and accompanied him. 

Russellville Public Library Director Ashley Cummins portrayed Elizabeth Jones Nance, a Virginia native who married Rufus Jackson Nance, a prominent and successful merchant. The couple had four children: William, Lucas, John and Thomas. 

Buford Parker, publisher of The Source Historical Magazine, portrayed Spencer Mason Scott, who moved to Russellville shortly after the Civil War. He helped establish the First Baptist Church.

Tim Kent spoke as Peter Clay, a good friend of Spencer Scott. Clay was a Confederate soldier who helped build the First Baptist Church. 

Sharon Mugno depicted Lucy McGraw Owen, who was married to the Rev. David Owen. “It was fun to get to help visitors learn more about those who came before us and to do so in a way that makes it more interesting and relatable,” said Mugno, whose husband Scott portrayed the reverend.

Doris Hutcheson spoke as her great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Dickson, and Jerry Smith depicted Probate Judge Sidney S. Anderson. Grant Atkins portrayed Lemuel Cook Bendall, and his wife, Beverly Atkins, depicted Ann Eliza Warnock. 

Bobby Stanford spoke as Dr. Joseph Trimble, whose first wife, Martha Jones, had a sister who was married to Gen. Joe Wheeler. 

Other notable characters on the tour were brought to life by signage about their contributions to the community.

Ozbirn said her daughter, Buffie Ozbirn, is invaluable in helping her with this and other events, sharing her enthusiasm in always looking for ways to discover, promote and preserve the history of the area. “I couldn’t do all this without her,” Ozbirn said. “I have a lot of support from so many enthusiastic, helpful volunteers. They believe in preserving history, and that’s what I work for every day – not just for this town, but for the whole county I always say you have to know where you come from to know where you’re going.”

To wrap up the three-year observance, the local committee will host the Bicentennial Birthday Celebration Nov. 21 at the A.W. Todd Center in Russellville at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the Franklin County Archives.