The physics of finding hidden headstones is easy for Tim Montgomery.
“A headstone will either fall forward or backwards from the base,” the retired eighth-grade science teacher said. “So if the base is there, all we do is take a shovel and shove it down into the ground on one side of the base, and then shove it down on the other side of the base, and sure enough, that’s how we found them.”
Each unearthing reveals headstones bearing the names of Collin County’s earliest residents buried in the Corinth Cemetery in Collin County. Some stones are preserved from the passage of time above ground while others bear the scars of crumbling concrete, creeping moss and even an over-enthusiastic lawn mower who disregarded the century-old headstones when cutting the grass in the 1980s.
Montgomery is leading the team that is finding and puzzling together these pieces, some of which have waited underground for about 40 years, and putting them in their rightful place among the rows of Collin County’s deceased settlers. One of the more famous, and missing, headstones is that of Hardy Mills, who was allegedly murdered by Ezell Stepp, the last man hanged in Collin County.
When Montgomery passed the cemetery on his way to work about eight years ago, he noticed it wasn’t receiving much care. But when he tried to rally some forces to make a change, nobody seemed interested.
About three months ago, he drove by the same land and saw it had fallen into a worse state.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ve got to do something about it now,’” he said.
One post later on the McKinney Cares Facebook group, Montgomery had 130 interested people who supported his goal. The support expanded to donated epoxy kits and a water tank to get the group started. So far, about 10 of the 130 group members have joined Montgomery in the evening and morning work times to epoxy, replace and clean the headstones and bases.
On paper, the cemetery is owned by the Corinth Church, which no longer exists. The church disbanded in 1920, Montgomery said, but the ownership on the Collin County Appraisal District never changed. With nobody to take care of the land, headstones sunk into the dirt and the grass grew to chest high.
Montgomery created a 501(c)3 organization, the Friends of Corinth Cemetery of Collin County, and has taken the lead on raising money and searching for materials.
Removing about 300 feet of concrete that once served as a grave cover is a priority for Montgomery, who is still searching for someone who can pick up the pile. Resetting the historically significant fence and getting ground-penetrating radar that would help locate any graves still hidden underground.
Montgomery estimates it will take about a year before the cemetery is fully restored, but that’s if the team can get extra volunteers and donations to support the effort. Money would go toward buying epoxy kits that would help put the headstones back together and funding new headstones to replace those that are beyond repair. A lot of the money that has gone into the project has been Montgomery’s own, he said.
“Just because nobody famous other than Hardy Mills is buried there doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be remembered,” Montgomery said. “Especially a cemetery that lies in one of the richest counties in America. It’s just a small cemetery that needed to be reclaimed.”