Like most small towns, Southport has a varied history; and out of humble beginnings, progress gradually takes root. Southport Road (once known as Union St.) became even more rural as it moved east from Madison Ave. The Old Southport Cemetery was not always a graveyard, but once a farm.
Jacob and Mary Smock of Kentucky made their way north to Indiana, settling into the wilderness area of Southport. This land became the Smock Farm.
Two of Jacob’s brothers themselves made the journey and settled a little farther south in Greenwood. Legend says that the first school in Southport, the Mudhouse, was built on the Smock’s land during this period. The log structure also doubled as a church, eventually being replaced with a school. It got destroyed due to a tornado, and Smock soon got out of the school business.
The former Southport Baptist Church (presently Bethel Community Church) was built on the east end of the former Smock’s farm in 1896. Some members believe the church has some Presbyterian ties. The church still stands in prominence on Southport Road today. The cemetery associated with it became the Southport Baptist Cemetery – the same graveyard that is there today. When did the Smock Farm become a graveyard? And what of church life?
There were always incarnations of a church on the property associated with the Smocks. Southside historian Bob Alloway states that by 1920, the church could no longer keep up the cemetery, deeding it to the Perry Township Trustees. That continues to this day.
“The steeple above the bell tower had been leaking rainwater into the church for a long time and continued to leak even after repairs,” Alloway says. “The steeple got torn off, and a pitched roof built over the bell tower.”
In 2012 the church experienced a tragedy when a mentally unstable woman shot and killed Pastor Jaman Iseminger as members gathered for a cemetery clean-up project.
The cemetery went through years of neglect, with Halloween especially vicious for vandalism. Frank Kautsky remembers when he walked between the cemetery fence line and the church parking lot to go down to the creek to fish. He remembers seeing the Brewer family plot with wooden tombstones; and not in good shape. In March of 2011, Southside Times writer and eventual editor Nicole Palmer (Davis) covered in writing workshops to restoring the monuments in the cemetery. In August of that year, 50+ folks gathered at the cemetery to practice what they had learned.
Samuel and Mary Bryan are buried in the cemetery, but Jacob and Mary Smock are not. Yet, there are Smocks present. Did the Bryans and the Smocks know one another? Absolutely. The Little Buck Creek Baptist Church, organized in 1832 and about a mile southwest of the present location, has Jacob & Mary Smock and Samuel, Mary, Luke and Polly Bryon on its roster. Bryan is spelled as Bryon (most likely a transcription error), yet this leaves little doubt they are the same people and worshiping in the same church. This roster places the Bryans in Southport about two to three years earlier than suspected.
In 1837 the Smocks transferred ownership of their farm site to the relocation of the church, with the cemetery established that year.