|Medical Leader | Photo by MARY MEADOWS|
|A WOMAN ON A MISSION: Lexington resident Danielle New has never lived in eastern Kentucky, but for eight years, she has been working to restore a Floyd County cemetery. She stands here near the graves of her great-great grandparents in Betsy Layne.|
|Medical Leader | Photo by MARY MEADOWS|
|GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: This headstone near the entrance of the cemetery reads “Gone but not forgotten.” It is one of dozens of graves covered in brush at the Betsy Layne Cemetery.|
|Medical Leader | Photo by MARY MEADOWS|
|FORGOTTEN: The headstone of Tandy Middleton Layne (1805-1841) fell over and is now lying flat on the ground at the Betsy Layne Cemetery in Floyd County. The grave of his wife — for whom the town of Betsy Layne was named for — is missing. She was buried next to him the year that Betsy Layne was founded.
|Medical Leader | Photo Courtesy of University of Pikeville|
|HISTORY: This photograph is of the home of James Shannon Layne, a Revolutionary War soldier who founded Laynesville, a settlement in the area now called Betsy Layne in Floyd County. This photo is part of the Henry P. Scalf Collection at the University of Pikeville’s Frank M. Allara Library.
Graves discovered in the Betsy Layne Cemetery have these surnames:
There are also numerous unknown and unmarked graves.
JUSTELL — People who travel from Floyd County and other northern areas of eastern Kentucky to Pike County must drive through Betsy Layne, a small unincorporated town located just off U.S. 23 near Harold.
For those who think the town’s name sounds a little feminine — well, that’s because it is.
Betsy Layne, founded in 1875, is actually named after a lady who lived near the town’s current location. She died the year the town was founded.
Her name was Elizabeth “Betsy” Johns Layne, the daughter of Nancy and Thomas P. Johns II.
In 1831, she married Tandy Middleton Layne, one of the first settlers of the nearby Justell community. The Layne family owned hundreds of acres in the area. Now, the property is divided in a trust between nearly two dozen people.
Lexington resident Danielle New has never lived in eastern Kentucky, has nothing to do with that trust and she is not related to the Layne family, but for eight years, she has been working to restore a piece of Floyd County’s history at the Betsy Layne Cemetery.
“There’s just so much history in this cemetery and it hurts my heart to know that it’s fallen into despair,” New said. “This city and this county were founded around people who were buried in this cemetery and they don’t even know that. They don’t know why their town was founded and why it was called Betsy Layne.”
Why it matters to New
New, 33, came to the Betsy Layne Cemetery because her second-great-grandparents, Joseph Bishop Colgrove and Lucy Colgrove, are buried there. It took her years to find their final resting place.
Like cemeteries throughout eastern Kentucky and other southern states, the Betsy Layne Cemetery has fallen to neglect. Graves have sunken beneath mounds of thick brush, fences are pulled down by vines and trees have tumbled over and broken headstones.
For three years, New regularly traveled from Lexington to Floyd County to search for the graves of her second-great-grandparents at the cemetery. It spans several acres on a hill in Justell.
“I was hoping there was some vital information on their headstones,” she said. “Their death certificates said they were buried in the Betsy Layne Cemetery at Justell. So, that brought me here, and from 2007 to 2010, I came here two or three times a year looking for their headstones. One day I slipped and fell and my knee hit something. I just started pulling back some of the vines and vegetation and there they were.”
Floyd County’s history is buried in the cemetery
The headstones did not give New additional information about her family history, but it did spark her desire to learn more about other people buried at the cemetery, including Betsy Layne — the namesake of not only the cemetery and the town, but also local schools, the post office and the fire department.
“I’m just more intrigued about the history of Betsy Layne and Tandy Layne,” she said. “And I want to find if James Shannon Layne is buried here. If we find that history, maybe we can get into the school system around here and educate these children about their town.”
James Shannon Layne — the first known Layne to settle in Floyd County — was a Revolutionary War soldier whose grave New desperately hopes to find in the cemetery. That’s because there are programs that would help fund the cleanup and preservation of the cemetery — a $30,000 endeavor — if a Revolutionary War soldier is buried there.
To date, New has identified seven veterans buried at the cemetery. They served in the Civil War, World War II and the Korean War.
“I’m currently working to identify the eighth veteran,” she said. “He doesn’t have a marker. His family was poor and he was in World War II and he died maybe in the 1960s or 1970s. Somebody just wrote his name on his headstone and they’ve never been back to give him any type of marker.”
The Civil War veteran, Lindsey Layne, fought at the Battle of Middle Creek in Prestonsburg, New said. Through research, she also learned that he was also a prominent Floyd County judge and postmaster. He lived in Peach Orchard in the 1800s.
“Lt. Lindsey Layne and his son were the only two people in the area who voted for Abraham Lincoln,” New said. “They were on the Union side. They were told, ‘If you come and vote, there will be men there with guns,’ but they didn’t shoot them. The genealogist who researched it said they found records that showed there were only two votes in Floyd County for Abraham Lincoln, so that story might be true.”
Lt. Layne’s grave is not properly marked, New said.
“He should have a marker that is prominent, that shows he was a judge of the county and that he was a Lieutenant of the Civil War,” she said.
New said three of the World War II veterans buried at the cemetery — Charles Goble, Raymond Goble and George Moles Jr. — were among four men who died in a mining disaster on Feb. 25, 1948.
“They never came home from their shift for the week, so their wives went to the mine to find them,” she said. “They all died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The newspaper stated that the city heard the women coming out of the mine, crying and screaming because their husbands had died.”
The headstone of one of these graves is leaning, and headstones for two of these men are buried under a thicket of vines and saplings. A nearby headstone of another World War II soldier is covered in mold.
“The mold has taken over it,” New said, pointing at the headstone. “That mold will eat into that granite and marble and then one day, you’re not going to be able to read what it says.”
The grave of Betsy and Tandy Layne also found this same fate at the cemetery.
Years ago, New found Betsy Layne’s headstone there, planted in the ground next to her husband’s headstone. Today, it does not exist. New hopes it is tucked up under vegetation, but she suspects that vandals destroyed it.
When New visited the cemetery last fall, Tandy Layne’s headstone was still standing. On a March 13 visit, however, New discovered Layne’s headstone broken from its seam of earth and lying flat on the ground.
“It’s just a matter of time before it breaks and you won’t be able to fix it,” she said. “Our history is fading fast and if we don’t clean it up and preserve it, it’s going to be gone forever and people won’t be able to trace the genealogy that’s lying in this cemetery.”
Genealogists spend much of their time unraveling mysteries — stories of people who were born and lived and died and — if they are lucky — everything in between.
New and her team of volunteers have painstakingly located 130 graves at the cemetery. Each of them flagged, photographed and cataloged in her online database. Because of the overgrowth, she can’t locate about 20 percent of the graves.
Officials with the National Register of Historic Places promised to help New map the cemetery if it is cleaned up to a maintainable state.
That’s just one of many organizations she has reached out to for help.
New wants to preserve the county’s history
In a perfect world, New could raise enough money to clean up the cemetery and take steps to preserve it, utilizing headstone preservation kits to restore old headstones before they become brittle and wilt away like the bodies of those buried there. She even found a company in North Carolina that can search the property with radar to find all of the graves without headstones.
But life is far from perfect.
“People laugh at me when I tell them what I’m doing,” she said. “They say, ‘What are you doing?’ There are cemeteries on hillsides like that all over eastern Kentucky.’”
In nearby Pike County, officials cleaned up neglected cemeteries because descendants of the Hatfield and McCoy feud are buried there and the 2012 release of a History Channel miniseries about the feud attracted droves of tourists. Buses of tourists still flock to those communities, and the tourists bring their wallets when they come, buying souvenirs, eating at local restaurants and shopping in local stores.
New would like to see that happen at the Betsy Layne Cemetery.
Her ability to see that happen, however, lies in the hands of many others.
She has personally invested thousands of hours for research, physical labor to clean up the cemetery and more than $2,000 on the project. She even created a nonprofit agency, Betsy Layne Cemetery, to raise funds for the effort.
She’s received quotes from several companies that can clean up the cemetery without causing more damage. After that, she’d seek additional funds to preserve headstones and maintain it for future generations.
“It’d be $30,000. That’s the quote we’ve gotten from several different tree preservists who can come up here and clean it up,” she said. “They’ve all quoted about $30,000 to clean up all these trees, haul them out and fix the fences that have fallen.”
The last known burial at the cemetery was in 2010. Because the graves are not well marked, gravediggers uncovered one grave trying to dig another one.
“If we were just able to mark these graves, saying that an unknown person is buried here, then it would prevent disturbing their peace and other people can bury their family members here,” she said.
The mystery of Betsy Layne remains
New wants to learn more about Betsy Layne with the hope that it will entice local residents to want to help restore the cemetery.
She knows that Betsy Layne married Tandy Layne in 1831, that she had five kids from 1831 to 1839 and that her husband died of typhoid fever when her youngest child was two years old. New discovered that Betsy Layne never remarried and that she had laborers and at least two slaves who lived with her.
“She had to have been an incredible woman,” New said. “She had to have been. They gave her a post office when she died. They gave the town to her after she died, so she did something. But no one knows. It really, really bothers me that there is not more information about this woman.”
Courthouse records were lost in a fire and the only records she finds do not state why the town was named.
The chimney of Betsy Layne’s house is still visible on a plot of land in the Justell community. That area is also overgrown and neglected.
In “Kentucky’s Last Frontier,” eastern Kentucky historian Henry P. Scalf details the Stratton and Layne settlements in the Betsy Layne area.
He reports that “a flood of settlers” from southwest Virginia came to the Big Sandy Valley in the late 1700s. In 1796, Solomon Stratton and his sons settled in what was then known as Mare Creek Narrows. James Shannon Layne — the Revolutionary War Soldier New desperately hopes to find at the cemetery — founded the Layne Settlement nearby.
Layne opened a horse mill for custom grinding of grain and later opened a general store there, Scalf reported.
“The two settlements, due to the many outstanding descendants, became important in log cabin development days,” Scalf wrote. “Like the Harmans and Auxiers farther down the river they contributed permanence and stability to a fast peopling valley.”
A newspaper article he wrote in 1954 explained that the parents of Betsy Layne and Tandy Layne traveled to the Big Sandy about a decade before they were born.
“Betsy’s mother had ridden horseback to Kentucky with one of the children, age about two years, lying in her arms,” he wrote.
To find more information about people buried in the cemetery, to volunteer or to donate to the restoration project, visit http://betsylaynecemetery.com. Tax deductible donations may also be mailed to Betsy Layne Cemetery, 977 Sugarbush Trail, Lexington, Ky. 40509. New is hosting a cemetery cleanup from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 28. She will provide hotdogs to volunteers and those who help can have free firewood. No tools will be provided.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Danielle New and Edna Scalf, archivist and reference librarian at the University of Pikeville’s Allara Library, for research assistance for this story.