Central Texas boy scout leads effort to restore abandoned cemetery dating back 175 years

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 7:01 PM CDT
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WEST, Texas (KWTX) - A Central Texas Boy Scout whose family uncovered a forgotten and overgrown cemetery dating back nearly 175 years has cleaned it up and restored it for an Eagle Scout project with the help of Central Texas individuals and businesses.

Tyler Blakemore, 17, a junior at West High School, has had his eye on cleaning up the plot of land in the middle of a pasture in Navarro Mills, which his family owns but doesn’t live on, since he was only 11-year-old.   That’s when a pipeline company first discovered that nearly 12 people were buried there dating back to a death in 1858.

Most of the names on the headstones included the last name French.

“I was around 11 and thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, and ever since then, I wanted to restore it and make it better,” Tyler said.

Abandoned French Family Cemetery before restoration
Abandoned French Family Cemetery before restoration(Courtesy Photos)

The opportunity to improve the site came along when Tyler started looking for an Eagle Scout Project, which is the culmination of the Scout’s leadership training, which results in a project that benefits the community.

Tyler has been part of the Boy Scouts of America since joining Cub Scouts at the age of six and is currently a part of Troop 494 in West.

The job ended up being a big one.

Tyler spent 138 hours preparing, planning and executing the overhaul of the space.

“It was extremely overgrown,” Tyler said. “You couldn’t see half of the headstones.”

Tyler’s father, Jason, said the family inherited the land a few years ago and didn’t know of the cemetery because it wasn’t visible from the road.

French Family Cemetery before and after
French Family Cemetery before and after(Courtesy Photos)

“It was overgrown with a lot of briars and brush, and small trees, and vines,” Jason recalls.  “It almost made a wall on part of it and some of the headstones were small anyway.”

Tyler says he could not have completed the project without the help and financial support of the community.

Sykora Family Ford in West and Chevrolet of West gave large cash donations.

Inky and Debbie Uptmore donated all the pipe.  Devco Fence and Supply built a custom gate and Kelly Lathern donated breakfast for the workers.  Atwood’s of Corsicana donated the barbed wire.

Rob Buchanan of West served as Tyler’s Eagle Scout coach and  Tom Wheeler, an assistant Scoutmaster, volunteered along with Blake Bryant.

Fellow scouts Brody Buchanan, Cole Bryant, Lorenzo Galgano, Isaac Vicars and Eli Vicars gave a helping hand.

Local businessmen helped restore the French Family Cemetery.
Local businessmen helped restore the French Family Cemetery. (Courtesy Photo)

Tony LeNoir, owner of Cen-Tex Metals and Cen-Tex Roof Systems, donated the metal sign placed on the fence which reads “French Family Cemetery.”

LeNoir said he was thrilled to give to such a worthwhile project.

“I have been blessed beyond measure,” LeNoir said. “I am always happy to give back.  No one has ever become poor from giving.   Give freely and you will be blessed tenfold.”

The Navarro County Historical Commission has already been out to see the project as they are the official beneficiary.   Tyler said they believe it could be connected to some gravesites about 10 miles away in Corsicana with other headstones that have a last name of French.

Tyler goes before the board Thursday evening to present his Eagle Scout Project and will find out soon after if he is awarded the distinction.

French Family Cemetery restored
French Family Cemetery restored(Courtesy Photo)