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Gene Ramsay's History Blog

Are you a history buff who can't get their hands on enough stories about Norcross? You've come to the right place! In this blog, local historian Gene Ramsay will take you on a journey to Norcross' past to discover the people and culture who laid the foundations for the city we know and love today. 

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Jan 28

History of the Norcross City Cemetery

Posted on January 28, 2022 at 10:58 PM by Gene Ramsay

Gwinnett County was formed in 1818, and for the first 50 years of its existence the county had only one town, Lawrenceville, the county seat.  In the county’s early years cemeteries were scattered about the lightly populated area - there was a city cemetery at Lawrenceville, and in addition there were church burial grounds and family cemeteries in various locations.  

New towns sprang up in Gwinnett in the 1870s with the coming of the Piedmont Air Line railroad, built through western Gwinnett on its way to connect Atlanta to Charlotte NC and points north.  In 1870 entrepreneur John Thrasher established a new town on the railroad, which he called Norcross, 20 miles up the new line from Atlanta, in southwest Gwinnett.  (Norcross was the second town in the county, receiving its charter from the Georgia state government in October of that year.)

The town, with its easy access to transportation, grew rapidly, and in 1873 Milton C. Lively and Stephen T. McElroy, local landowners, donated an acre of property (more or less) to the city for a cemetery.  The deed for the land transfer, made out to Washington P Johnson, who was mayor of the town at the time, specified the location of the cemetery in terms of then-existing landmarks in the area – the lot was to start “at a black jack tree near the road leading from Norcross to the Orphans home” – and it was to be a square with 210 feet on each side, with borders running first due north from the tree, then due east, then due south and then due west, back to the starting point. 

Gravestones in the Norcross City cemetery indicate that burials soon followed.  One of the older ones is that of Civil War veteran Joel H Braswell, who died November 18, 1875 - his gravestone is shown in the photo below.

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Note: the cemetery contains a gravestone for a young boy who died in 1864, but his remains were buried elsewhere in the area at his death and then were moved to a family plot in the Norcross City Cemetery after it was established.  

In 1916 the city purchased an additional nine acres of the adjacent land from M. C. Lively’s descendants.  Part of the land was used to expand the city cemetery from its original one-acre size, while part was used in later years to build an athletic field.

The pavilion at the entrance to the cemetery (shown in the photo below) was erected by the townspeople in 1922.  

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The fencing and gates that currently border the cemetery property were added in 2015 as part of a major renovation project undertaken by the Norcross Public Works Department.

In the early 1900s there were two streets leading from the center of Norcross to the cemetery, these known as North Cemetery Street and South Cemetery Street.  However, this changed over the years.

US 23 (“Buford Highway”) was built in the 1930s, passing between the heart of Norcross and the cemetery, crossing both Cemetery streets.  Buford Highway was later widened to five lanes in the area, and this, along with the potential for development / redevelopment, led to modifications to the two streets headed to the cemetery, and their names.  The section of South Cemetery Street west of Buford Highway was renamed to honor the well-known baseball player Roy Carlyle, who lived on the street for many years, and the portion of North Cemetery Street west of Buford Highway was renamed Holcomb Bridge Road circa 2012.  Today there is only one street leading to the cemetery on the east side of Buford Highway.  What started as that “road leading from Norcross to the Orphans home” that was referenced in the original deed, is, today, known as South Cemetery Street.

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