More than two-dozen descendants of a confederate veteran and his family buried at a historic Sandy Springs cemetery are asking a judge to halt plans to build a home on the property.
Those 28 descendants, spread across the South from Georgia to Texas, have filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit against the city of Sandy Springs.
Local attorney Christopher Mills, the current owner of the Heard Family Cemetery property, sued the city in August. Mills wants a judge to overturn the city’s rejection of his application to build a home on the unused portion of the land containing the cemetery.
The burial ground, located at 0 Heards Drive in Sandy Springs, contains the grave of Judge John Heard, a confederate veteran, and members of his family. It has plots dating back to the 1840s, according to Heritage Sandy Springs. It was the scene of Federal troops crossing the river during the Civil War at what was known as Isom’s Ferry. There currently is a historical marker commemorating the event.
Neighbors and Heard relatives have tracked down Judge Heard’s descendants, collecting their affidavits and attaching them to their motion, filed in Fulton County Superior Court on Nov. 9. Among their numerous protests, they deny that Mills can actually own the property. Mills received it after another Heard descendant, Mary Ann Elsner (sometimes listed as Ellis in court documents), signed over her rights to the property to Mills’ in-laws.
“As descendants of Judge Heard, applicants have an interest in the cemetery that is equal to or greater than that of Ms. Ellis,” the descendants’ court filing says. “Ms. Ellis did not consult any of her relatives about transferring the property and the applicants did not authorize such a transfer.”
Elsner transferred her rights to the property in 2007 as part of an effort to get the cemetery back from a Florida company that purchased it at a tax auction. Cemeteries are tax exempt but the one-acre parcel ended up on the delinquent tax list by mistake.
Elsner and Mills have not returned calls seeking comment. The descendants are asking a judge to block any development on the property and to find it belongs to the heirs of John Heard and his brother, Newman Isaiah Heard. They are also seeking attorney’s fees and unspecified damages for alleged trespass by Mills.
The descendants caught wind of the story after it was initially published in the Sandy Springs Reporter. Heard had 23 children, and his descendants can be found all over Georgia as well as Florida, Texas, Alabama and South Carolina.
Doris Bond, who lives in Houston, remembers attending a funeral at the cemetery with her grandfather. She said she was “shocked” when relatives called her to tell her about what had happened to it since she left Sandy Springs.
“I was very interested in keeping it ‘as is’ if at all possible because it has meant a lot to the family,” Bond said. “There’s few things left sacred in our country and that’s one of them.”
John Ricketson III, a descendant who lives in Macon, lived on Heards Drive until he was 6 years old, and his grandparents lived there longer. Ricketson works in the construction business and recalled how in the 1980s he brought in a crane to stand-up the headstones after teenagers vandalized the cemetery.
When he moved away, he assumed the cemetery would be cared for.
“I’m kind of surprised and I’m kind of angry at myself for not taking a more proactive stance in looking after the cemetery,” he said. “I’m kind of embarrassed about that.”
Bond said the lawsuit has one upshot for descendants. It brought the family closer together, she said. There are plans for a family reunion in Atlanta.
“Sometimes a little adversity can be a blessing,” Bond said.