By Rick Hinton
Southport has a varied history. Most small towns do. Out of humble beginnings, progress gradually takes root. Southport Road (once known as Union Street) became even more rural as it moved east from Madison Avenue. 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. In May 1822, land was purchased and the work began. The property was cleared and the first cabin built by the summer of 1823. This became the “Smock Farm.” Two of Jacob’s brothers made the journey and themselves settled a little farther south in Greenwood. Legend says the first school in Southport (likely called the Mudhouse) was built on Smock’s land during this period. The log structure also doubled as a church (they had their priorities), eventually being replaced with a new frame school. It was destroyed as the result of a tornado and Smock got out of the school business.
This is where history gets a tad fuzzy…
The former Southport Baptist Church (now Bethel Community Church) was built on the east end of the former Smock’s farm in 1896. There are current members who feel strongly the church has some Presbyterian ties. It still stands in prominence on Southport Road today. There was a cemetery associated with it – Southport Baptist Cemetery; the very same graveyard exists today. When did the Smock Farm become a graveyard? And church life? Apparently there were always incarnations of a church on the property associated with the Smock’s. South side 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. Grass is cut and the frontage wall was replaced five years ago (close to the original design). “The steeple above the bell tower had been leaking rain water into the church for a long time, and continued to leak even after repairs,” Bob said. “The steeple was finally 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 church has carried on.
The cemetery went through years of neglect, with Halloween especially vicious for vandalism. Frank Kautsky remembers a time in the past, walking between the cemetery fence line and the church parking lot to go down to the creek to fish. He remembers seeing the Brewer plot with wooden tombstones not in great shape. In March 2011 Southside Times writer and eventual editor, Nicole Palmer (Davis), covered workshops to restore the monuments in the graveyard. This became a reality when in August of that year 50+ folks gathered at the cemetery to put into practice what they’d learned.
Samuel and Mary Bryan are buried there. Jacob and Mary Smock are not; however, there are Smocks present. Did these early south side pioneers know one another? Absolutely! The Little Buck Creek Baptist Church, organized in 1832 and about a mile southwest of the present location, has on its roster Jacob & Mary Smock and Samuel, Mary, Luke and Polly Bryon. Bryan is spelled as Bryon (most likely a transcription error), yet this leaves little doubt they’re the same people, and worshiping in the same church. (This places the Bryan’s in Southport about two – three years earlier than suspected.) In 1837 the Smock’s transferred ownership of their farm site to the relocation of the church, with the cemetery being established that year.
The rest, shall we say, goes into the annuals of history!
Thanks to Bob Alloway & Barry Browning for info and photos!
Rick Hinton, a Southport resident, loves researching things that go bump in the night. His articles can be read on Facebook: Rick Hinton, Southport Paranormal Examiner. Hinton conducts paranormal investigations with his team, South Central Paranormal.