by Tim Gilmore, 9/24/2021
A winding trail drawn in dotted lines shows the “Old Road to Cosmo,” just as Lone Star Road connected “Old Fulton Town” southward to its namesake community. Lost roads, footpaths and wagon trails twisted all through these woods, connecting the old black communities Cosmo, Lone Star, Chaseville, the southern part of Gilmore and others. With the exception of Cosmo, these communities have vanished into the land and time, the cemeteries at Chaseville and Fulton unceremoniously exhumed and discarded.
John C. Christian, who grew up nearby and knows as much about Arlington as anyone alive, thinks the name “Lone Star,” rather than being christened by some Texas transplant, relates to Mt. Zion Methodist Church, just south of Lone Star and Fulton, whose cemetery dates to 1862 and was first called Lone Star Cemetery.
John refers to his friend, the late Cleve Powell, “dean of Arlington history,” who “believed that Lone Star Road was named after the cemetery and not vice versa.” He notes the number of “historically black churches named Lone Star and Mount Zion,” cites the Books of Hebrews and Revelation in the New Testament for reference to Mount Zion as “the heavenly Jerusalem, God’s holy, eternal city,” and reminds me that “the Star of Bethlehem or Christmas Star, often called the Lone Star, led the Magi to Jesus’s birthplace.”
In their 1960s’ interview, sometimes barely audible through this scratchy audio, Reverend Frank Dearing asks Old Willie Browne on at least three occasions where Lone Star was. Willie’s answers are always a little vague, a bit askew—“supposed to be between the two creeks,” he says once, and the reverend never seems quite satisfied.
The men discuss Calypso Island, which holds no Odysseus prisoner, the way the creeks come together in the marsh and where the old well used to be. They talk a lot about old wells. There seem to be wells lost all over the place out here. They speak of the town of Fulton, “one street coming in here and another that way” where no roads remain, moonshine stills and revenuers, an old barn with a tin roof. “And there was a great big live oak tree,” Willie says, “right on the edge of the cliff.”
“And it’s washed down probably, you reckon?” Dearing says.
“Oh, it’s gone!”
“Gone into the marsh,” Dearing says with finality in midcentury radio broadcaster’s voice.
Dearing keeps asking about Lone Star and Willie’s answers seem to corroborate John Christian’s and Cleve Powell’s theories.
When Dearing asks, “Who lived there then?” Willie says, “The colored people. There might have been some white people and they lived with the colored people. A lot of people lived in there. Most had been slaves, you see, and they come down here,” and “after the war was over,” they “didn’t have any means,” so the Episcopals built “Lone Star Church and that’s why they named this road up through here Lone Star, because before that, this [the Fulton area] was just called Shipyard.”
Mount Zion Methodist Church was Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal was Lone Star Church. So Lone Star, the community, stood between the end of Lone Star Road today, off to the west, and where Old Lone Star Road once ended at the river in Fulton.
Six and a half miles south of Fulton Boat Ramp, a new subdivision of cheek-by-jowl cookie-cutter suburban houses called Mill Creek at Kendall Town teardrops into a cul-de-sac that ends at Mount Zion Methodist Church. The landscape layers itself over centuries, newness always an illusion.
Behind the current concrete block church building, constructed in 1984, which replaced the 1962 building that replaced older wooden structures back to the year after the Civil War, the graves of Lone Star Cemetery lie beneath moss-bearded ancestor oaks.
Here’s the grave of James Aberdeen, who died in 1902, having lived more than half of his 85 years in slavery. He was born before Jacksonville, in 1817. Here are the graves of United States Colored Troops, black soldiers who fought against the Confederate States of America, like Robert Anderson, whose headstone has no birth or death dates. The epitaph for Reverend S.A. Huger, who’d just reached his 60th birthday when he died in 1920, says he’s “Absent, Not Dead.”
When Reverend Dearing again asks Willie Browne where Lone Star was, the old man responds, “’Cause there’s a Lone Star Cemetery there that the colored people have, see? And they got a church in there somewhere.”
“The Lone Star Church there,” Dearing says to Willie, finally somewhat satisfied, “I can remember that one.”
Most of these communities have disappeared. Sometimes the churches remain. When the churches go, the cemeteries linger. The communities, the churches and the cemeteries effloresce as different manifestations of the same entity. Lone Star Cemetery remains because its church does. And because it’s harder for today’s developers, even if they so wished, to dispose of old black cemeteries like they once did.