Helms Cemetery

Documenting and Preserving Historic Cemeteries

The Arkansas Archeological Survey has worked with community groups and individuals interested in preserving historic cemeteries in Arkansas.  In 2010, the Buffaloes' Foundation, Inc. obtained a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council to document and preserve the Helms Cemetery in Clark County, Arkansas.  The Helms Cemetery is significant as the burial place of several African-American men and women who were once prominent in education and medicine in Arkadelphia.  As station archeologist at the AAS/HSU Research Station, Dr. Trubitt served as a humanities scholar for the Buffaloes' Foundation's grant.  Trubitt's part in this project has been archeological mapping and photographic documentation of grave markers in the cemetery.  

Cemetery overview

Dr. Trubitt recorded Helms Cemetery as archeological site 3CL873 following a 2009 visit with Mr. Leroy Brownlee and Mr. Art Tippin of the Buffaloes' Foundation, Inc. 

J. E. Peake (born 1851, died 1906) was superintendent at Bethel Institute, now Shorter College in North Little Rock.  Peake High School in Arkadelphia, a Rosenwald school built 1928-1929 that is now used by Peake Elementary School, was named after him. 

Peake obelisk
Cemetery documentation

A starting point for the grave mapping project was a list of individuals buried here based on the published cemetery census.   The Clark County Historical Association published a five-volume set of books on cemeteries in the county that includes documentation of names and inscriptions from gravestones. 

Over four field days in September and October, 2010, we mapped grave markers, graves, family plot corners, and possible graves within Helms Cemetery.  Each gravestone or possible grave was flagged, shot in with the total station, matched to the CCHA list of individuals named on grave markers, and photographed.  The result is that the map, the photographs, and the cemetery census can all be tied together. 

Trubitt at total station
Sorensen mapping

HSU student Elizabeth Sorensen assisted with the archeological mapping at Helms.  George Elder, Lon Ware, Art Tippin, Jarrod Davis, Pam Lucas, Juanita Williams, and John Beavers also volunteered their time on this cemetery documentation project. 

This map locates all the gravestones and marked graves, as well as possible graves based on surface evidence of depressions or sunken areas, low topographic rises or mounded earth, plantings of yucca or irises, or unmarked rocks, concrete blocks, or bricks. 

Helms map large version
Helms map detail

Copies of the final map and CDs with the digital photographs are on file at the AAS/HSU Research Station, as well as with the Buffaloes' Foundation, Inc.  With this mapping and photo-documentation we have a record of grave locations, documentation of the condition of grave markers, and have identified possible unmarked grave locations. 

There's still work to be done.  The Buffaloes' Foundation, Inc., plans more work at Helms Cemetery to clean and repair some of the grave markers as well as to collect oral histories from community members and descendants. 


For more information on preserving historic cemeteries in Arkansas, see:

    Ann M. Early's Arkansas Cemetery Preservation brochure.


Mary Beth Trubitt, Ph.D.

Arkansas Archeological Survey

May, 2011


    go back to main HSU Research Station page.

dislocated gravestone
Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy marker

UPDATE:  The Buffaloes' Foundation, Inc., held a dedication service on May 15, 2012 at the West End Presbyterian Church in Arkadelphia to celebrate the placement of four historical markers at locations of schools serving the African-American community in Clark County during the early 20th century.  The Buffaloes' Foundation has placed markers at the former locations of Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy (as seen in this photo), Arkadelphia Baptist Academy, Sloan School, and Farrie Dawson Taylor Kindergarten.  Like the Helms Cemetery documentation project, this is another Buffaloes' Foundation project to help raise awareness of African-American history in Clark County. 



Web page last updated 18 May 2012.  Web page contact: M. B. Trubitt, trubitm@hsu.edu.  

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