The Sardis Methodist Church and Cemetery site was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. The current church building (the third on the site) was completed in 1927. The cemetery, however, predates 1869. Sardis Cemetery is significant as a good example of a rural churchyard that retains the distinctive characteristics that define southern folk burial grounds of the 19th century, including its vegetation, layout, and mortuary art.
It is estimated that more than 750 people are buried at Sardis Cemetery, many of whom have unmarked or crudely marked graves. Thirty of these unmarked graves are pauper’s graves which were relocated in 1920 from an old Atlanta Cemetery when the land was purchased by the Atlantic Steel Corporation (present day Atlanta Water Works). Sardis Cemetery also contains the graves of many of Buckhead’s earliest settlers including Henry Irby, Wesley Gray Collier, Rev. William Joseph Rolader, and James Mathieson. Find A Grave documents over 950 interments.
In 1878 the Donaldson family built the only mausoleum in the cemetery. Located close to the western edge of the property facing Powers Ferry Road, it serves as the final resting place for seven members of the Donaldson family. Silas H. Donaldson, Sr., the Donaldson family patriarch and one of the founders of Sardis Church, was interred in the vault in 1893, but his body was later moved to Westview Cemetery.
The cemetery’s headstones range from primitive fieldstone markers to larger, more elaborate headstones. The markers range in shapes, sizes and materials, reflecting the almost 150 year evolution of the site from simpler settler days to more sophisticated, affluent times. Most of the primitive markers are located in the southeastern portion of the cemetery—the area closest to the church, which was developed first. Meanwhile, many of the site’s headstones are simply upright granite or marble slabs that are either rectangular or chambered at the top. A few cradle graves and obelisks also dot the cemetery. Although elaborate gravestone symbolism is fairly scarce overall, Masonic symbols and crosses are seen throughout the cemetery.
In 1975, the members of Sardis UMC organized and incorporated the Sardis Cemetery Association to help preserve the cemetery through a perpetual care arrangement; they maintain a website with maps, photos, and searchable database, which can be accessed here.
More information on the National Register of Historic Places listing can be found on the Buckhead Heritage website here. A copy of Franklin Garrett’s necrology of the cemetery (completed in the early 1930s and accessed through the Atlanta History Center) can be found here.
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Sardis Church and Cemetery
Buckhead Heritage Society
3180 Mathieson Drive, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30305