By John Schaffner
Tucked behind a home at 795 Sudbury Road, off Spalding Drive in northeast Sandy Springs, is the Peter Ball Cemetery, a plot of history and the final home for some of the early settlers of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
For decades brush and fallen trees covered the cemetery, which was unknown to many residents of the area — even members of the Ball family still living nearby.
Sandy Springs City Council member Ashley Jenkins, who lives streets away, said she never knew the cemetery was there. Council member Rusty Paul, who formerly lived in the neighborhood, agreed.
From the dates on the tombstones, however, the cemetery has been there since the mid-1800s.
It took a transplanted Californian looking for a place to build a larger home and a real estate agent who told him, “You are the only one I know crazy enough to buy a lot with a cemetery on it,” to uncover this small but historic site in 1978.
As they stood before the wooded lot on Sudbury Road, Brian Hernan said to his wife, Linda, “I bet there is a cemetery in there somewhere.”
He said they crawled in there, and “sure enough there was.”
The lot was owned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), which took it after the builder at Spalding Woods went bankrupt in the mid-1970s.
The cemetery is a separately deeded lot but juts into what otherwise might have been the back yard.
The presence of the cemetery wasn’t a problem, but it was in disrepair. Trees were growing through the above-ground graves. The headstones were knocked down. Fallen trees had broken up the wire fence around the cemetery.
The Hernans tore down the old fence, put up a wooden fence and cleared the lot, and Linda planted flowers.
Burt Terrell of Dunwoody, the caretaker of another Ball cemetery off Roswell Road next to the Big Trees preserve and a relative of the Ball family, told the Hernans he had looked for the Peter Ball Cemetery for 20 years, but old maps showed the cemetery north of Spalding Road. The cemetery had not moved; Spalding Drive had.
Peter Ball was born in 1806 in South Carolina and moved in the early-to-mid-1800s to the Sandy Springs/Dunwoody area. He married Margaret Robertson, who also was from South Carolina, about 1826. Both are buried in the cemetery. They had nine children.
Ball ran a mill of some sort where Spalding Drive meets Ball Mill Drive.
One of his sons, Reuben Ball, who was buried in the cemetery in 1908, was postmaster of Dunwoody. He ran a daily route with a horse-drawn cart from Dunwoody up to the Chattahoochee at Roswell, over to Johnson’s Ferry and then back to Dunwoody.
He was born in Georgia in 1847 and married a Georgia woman, Martha Salina Brightwell, in 1872. She died in 1924 and is buried beside Reuben. Beside her are the graves of two of their children, Lawrence Albert Ball, who died in 1961, and Clara Elizabeth Ball, who died in 1962.
The oldest graves in the cemetery date to the 1840s. The cemetery has two unidentified graves, whose size indicates that they may be of children.
The Hernans made limited contact with members of the family, and some started showing up at the cemetery around 1990. They included local residents Carolyn Grant and Mary Francis Cowen, who are great-great-granddaughters of Peter Ball, and Margaret McDonald, who lived in Tennessee and has since died. McDonald’s daughter, Rita Cheek, who lives in Memphis, has taken an interest in the family’s history and in the cemetery.
Minnie Ball was the mother of 81-year-old Grant. Grant said one of Peter Ball’s sons was named Martin, and Martin’s son John was her mother’s father. She said her mother and dad had eight children.
Grant said her great-grandfather and grandfather lived at the end of Mabry Road at Glenridge. “I spent a lot of my childhood up there visiting,” she said, but she never went to the cemetery as a child.
“All of my first cousins are gone. I am the last one,” Grant said. Cowen and Cheek are her second cousins.
Cowen said Dora Ball Mitchell was her grandmother. Mitchell was a daughter of Grant’s grandfather, John. The Mitchell house is on Mitchell Road in the neighborhood.
“When John and his wife, Jane, were living, they owned all that property in there. They farmed it,” Cowen said. Spalding Woods was developed when the Grants sold it.
“One of John and Jane’s daughters got 100 acres when she got married,” Cowen said. “She married into the Spruill family. That is how they got all that land over there.”
Cowen and Grant go up to the cemetery a lot. They hired a person to clean it up and had signs made.
“We need to get it cleaned off again. Those leaves just pile up,” Grant said, explaining that the new owners, a man and his son, aren’t interested in the cemetery. “The Hernans were so nice. I sure did hate to see them move.”