Conroe Community Cemetery
Jon Edens & John Meredith
Just east of downtown Conroe, literally on the “other side of the tracks,” is a small, neglected cemetery that in 2011 was completely overgrown and in disrepair. Its residents laid in their eternal rest, forgotten and forsaken. This cemetery is where the blacks of Conroe buried their dead, separate from the whites. It had no name, and is not mentioned in any land records of Montgomery County, but among the elder black community it was simply known as the Community Cemetery or the Conroe Cemetery.
The Conroe Community Cemetery is a historic black cemetery with an unknown number of burials but currently 239 have been identified. The earliest known burial is a child with the last name of Armstrong, buried in the cemetery in May 1892, at just nine months old. The last burial was of James C Pitts in 1966. He was of a significant educator in the African American community. It’s been noted in local history as “the cemetery without a name,” but an area genealogist, Jon Edens, has brought recognition to a forgotten graveyard on 10th Street in Conroe.
The cemetery exists between the Oakwood Cemetery and Old Normal and Industrial College property. It is said to be one of the oldest burial grounds in Montgomery County serving as a final resting place for dozens of blacks who settled here during the post-Civil War era.
Jon Edens was transcribing graves at the adjacent Oakwood Cemetery in the fall of 2011 when he saw a grave on the north side of the fence of the property. He climbed the fence and discovered several graves. “I began researching it and couldn’t find any records of the cemetery,” he said. He did eventually find a list of burials that were cataloged by Oveta and Horace Wright in April 1978. His research led him to find that Henry Runge, who lived from 1888 to 1923 was the last owner of the property. Runge never married and had no children, so his siblings were the heirs for the property.
To bring attention to this historic cemetery Jon Edens formed the nonprofit Conroe Community Cemetery Restoration Project in 2016 to organize the cleanup, restoration and preservation of the cemetery. In September 2019 the cleanup of the cemetery began. In May 2020 for the first time in its more than 100-year history, a cemetery sign was installed to designate the entrance to the cemetery. During the summer of 2021 the Conroe Community Cemetery was designated a Historic Texas Cemetery by the Texas Historical Commission. The distinction means the cemetery has been legally recorded through the THC’s Cemetery Preservation Program.
History of the Community Cemetery Property
An exhaustive search reveals there is no mention of the black cemetery in any property record in the Montgomery County Clerk’s office. It is located in Block 8 of the Lemuel Smith survey. Block 8 was sold by Henry J. Runge to Laura Henderson on 28 Nov 1898.
Again, while there is no mention of the black cemetery on the property purchased, there is evidence of the cemetery that will be known as Oakwood Cemetery in the future.
- On 25 May 1905, Laura Henderson sold to C. W. Nugent and John I. Butler a “strip 50 ft wide and no more from North to South and 359 feet long and no more from West to East and lies immediately South of the Conroe Cemetery for white people…”.
- On 6 May 1914, Ms. Henderson sold a strip of land 50 feet north to south, and 359 feet west to east along the south border of the Newton & Butler Addition to E. G. Pitts. Texas.
- On 31 Mar 1919, Ms. Henderson sold to the Conroe Cemetery Association, J. Wahrenberger, E.G. Pitts, and H.C. Addison, trustees, 2.48 acres to the Conroe Cemetery Association that runs along the “line of said E. G. Pitts Addition to the old cemetery” and “90 5/10 feet to the south line of the old cemetery; Thence north 63-½ E. 121 feet to the S.E. corner of the old cemetery.”
- Finally on 14 Apr 1926, “Laura Henderson, a femme sole, Will. Henderson, and George Henderson children and heirs at law of Frank, Henderson, (deceased) Father, and being all of the heirs, and none others…” sold to the Conroe Cemetery Association the final parcel of land that runs along the south border of the 1919 sale and along the “Conroe and Cleveland public road” (Highway 105).
- Other than the sale of plots by the Conroe Cemetery Association within the boundaries of Oakwood Cemetery, there is no mention of any other cemetery in any land records within the Montgomery County Property Record for Block 8 of the Lemuel Smith subdivision, or in Block 8 of the Runges Addition, as it is sometimes referred to.
Part of the extensive search for any record of the black cemetery also included an exhaustive search within the Montgomery County Property Records in Block 9 of the Lemuel Smith subdivision, which is located on the north border of Block 8, as well as Blocks 12 and 13, which are east of Block 8. Again, there is no mention of the cemetery.
Burials at Conroe Community Cemetery:
The Conroe Community Cemetery exhibits burial practices unique to the African American community in Conroe. Some practices probably date back to African cultural practices and others to those rites and traditions established during their period of time in slavery. Three graves are marked with a railroad rail. Objects found associated with the graves would represent the important parts of the person’s life which in this case would be their work on the railroad or in the rail yard of the nearby Delta Land and Sawmill Co. sawmill in Conroe. That area of Conroe is now called Mill Town. Personal items including broken glassware and pottery are very commonly found with the graves. The grave of Alice Jackson is literally covered with glassware and pottery. Another burial good is the sea shell. One explanation for this tradition would be that the slaves were transported across the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships. There connection back to their homes would be the sea and the sea shell is the representation of the sea. Gardenia and yucca plants were used to mark graves as well. Extreme care had to be exercised in the restoration of the cemetery that no objects or plants were moved before they could be evaluated.
Genealogist Jon Edens original extensive research on the Conroe Community Cemetery, along with other current research and exploration has identified 49 known gravesites. These are the gravesites currently identified by name:
Armstrong (First name unknown)
Dora Griffin Armstrong
Velma ?ra B
Jacob F. Cozier
Baby Boy Denman
Emma McDade Dorsey
Luther James Dorsey
Little Luceil Drake
Maude Ruth Gilder
Laura McNeese Henderson
Bertha Dorsey Mapp
N. A. McCowen
James Charles Pitts Sr
Marion Thomas Pitts
Ollie Holland Pitts
Ben M. Taylor
Jessie J. Turner
Mittie J. Campbell
Georgia Pitts White
Leon A. Williams
Agnes L. Woodworth
At this time another 182 burials have been confirmed by markers with no inscriptions, shallow depressions, burial goods, temporary metal markers revealed by metal detection, cadaver dogs, soil variations, plants and Ground Penetrating Radar provided by the University of Houston Geophysics Department. The latter tool is in its early stages of evaluation but is showing significant potential. Another 10 potential graves, identified by just a shallow depression, need to be evaluated further.
As graves are validated a granite marker is place at each grave with the inscription “Unknown” so that future generations can see the full extent of the cemetery and appreciate the significant impact the African American community had on the development of Conroe, Texas.
“There’s a lot of history there,” Jon Edens said in a Houston Chronicle article. “Some of the people buried there were very influential in the African American community in the early part of the 20th century,” he said. “These are people who should be recognized and honored for what they have done for Conroe and the community at large.”