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New industrial park mindful of history

Across from Wal-Mart on Highway 231 is a tiny dirt road. There are no signs posted and with the traffic whizzing by and the dazzling lights from the shopping center, the tiny turn-off can be easy to miss.

But this simple dirt road represents the meeting of nature with industry and Pike County's history with a commitment to commerce.

The old Starling Cemetery is down the dirt road, past grassy hills, kudzu and a solitude that is more pronounced, given the closeness to the hustle and bustle of the Highway 231 traffic. There, through the woods, across the street from the retail Mecca lies the final resting place of approximately 60 people. And there, amid the pristine silence of pine trees and silent souls, will be the new Troy Industrial park.

The Troy Industrial Park South will encompass about 180 acres. The cemetery is on the southern side of the property, and economic developers have already been showing the property to prospective industries, according to Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford.

Where commerce and history collide is access to the cemetery.

"We knew the cemetery was there and that there was only the dirt road going through the (industrial park) property," Lunsford said. "The main thing is that we won't be disturbing the cemetery, and we'll be improving access to it through the park expansion."

Troy City Council president John Witherington (District 4) said the park would begin construction after the legal details were worked out.

"The property will be purchased in the name of the City of Troy. We've given the mayor the authority to proceed with it. Options had been obtained on the Dozier property. The option to obtain the Beard part of the property is being done now."

The cemetery is now kept up by 80-year-old Rufus Davenport of Pike County.

"It was my mom's granddaddy, Henry William Starling, who settled it and lived out there with almost 1,000 acres or so," he said.

Starling, born in 1790, was buried on the land after producing the three Starling brothers: William, Reddock and John. The group came to Alabama from North Carolina and William and Reddock settled in Pike County, with John continuing on to Texas.

William served in the 37th Alabama Infantry in the army of the Confederate States of America and the line of veterans traces through the family, as reflected on the tombstones in the cemetery. Willie Madaris, a veteran of the Second World War is laid to rest there.

"We think the cemetery was founded in 1832 or so, because the reports say that Reddock was still wearing a dress at the time," said Frances Davenport, wife of Rufus. "Boys used to wear dresses back then until they got to a certain age."

The plot is rich with such historical anecdotes.

Two of the Starlings buried on the land have the exact same name. Lilla Starling was born one year before Lilla Starling, who was born in 1887. The two are buried next to each other.

Colorful names hint at what sort of people some of the deceased might have been. Camilla "Pinkie" Starling is buried just steps away from Leon "Toodle Dink" Starling. Others are nearby, with dates and names weathered by time - testaments to an era before freeways and retail giants.

Rufus, one of 10 children, lives out on what is called Davenport Hill, a cluster of houses off County Road 59 populated by family members. He said he still goes out to the cemetery, often with very little help, to keep the grass cut and the grounds in order.

"Nobody helps me a bit. I can't get help from none of them," he said, referring to other members of the family. "I've worn out two lawn mowers keeping that land up."

He said there was a battle with one of the owners of the land surrounding the cemetery several years ago.

"They wanted to close down the road leading into the cemetery, but there are hundreds and hundreds of people with kin up there and I'm not going to allow them to put a gate up on that road. It's a public road and those people are my family and our history."

Although he had not heard about the plans for the coming industrial park, he hoped to see the road and the sanctity of the site preserved.

Other relatives agree that the cemetery is rich with history.

"They owned this cemetery and about 640 acres and maybe more," said Jean Starling, a relative of several of the people buried in the plot. "They owned from here all the way up to the road, but they eventually sold it and moved into town in the Starling House, which was over near where the Fillin' Station is now [on South Brundidge Street in Troy]."

Starling, who is related to William, said her husband, James, was involved with real estate and was able to salvage some of the prime wood from the old Starling House and incorporate it into their new home on the Butter and Egg Road.

Whatever historical stories may have been lost across the seas of time, the Davenports are sure of one thing: Their ancestors would want to preserve the family cemetery and the integrity of the land.

"I was up at Wal-Mart the other day and looked out across the land where they used to live and I was just thinking about what they would think if they could be alive to see how it is today," Rufus said. "They'd be spinning in their graves."