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Mason Freeman reclaims cemetery to earn Eagle rank

MADISON – Mason Freeman was searching for a worthy project to earn the Eagle Scout rank when he learned about a historic cemetery that deserved attention.

Mason’s family was a major motivation to attain Eagle status. Both his brother and father are Eagle Scouts. Mason’s brother, at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor, gave a coin to Mason. Their father had given the coin to Mason’s brother and said the coin always was passed on to a future Eagle Scout.

Mason is a member of Troop 351 with Scoutmaster David Cybuck. “Two adult leaders who really have helped me work on my Eagle Scout are Mr. Sperr and Mr. Cooley. Mr. Sperr has helped since I started . . . with any questions about things to do, who I needed to meet with and ways (to finish) within my time frame,” Mason said.

“Mr. Cooley was a big help. He (attended) all my workdays, helped me with merit badges and has been a great help to my advancement,” Mason said.

For his Eagle project, Mason wanted to work at a family cemetery so he contacted Madison historian John Rankin. Mason took Rankin’s advice and visited various cemeteries in Madison for one of reasonable size.

Mason chose the Farrald-Camper Cemetery, located south of Old Mexico Cantina on the south side of Brown’s Ferry Road and just west of Hughes Road. In his improvements, Mason replaced a crumbling bench; painted the front gate, where he added a cemetery map; added a picnic bench; and cleared a path for visitors.

“The Camper Hill Memorial Garden in Madison is the historical cemetery of the Farrald and Camper clans. The land was originally owned by the Farrald family until later purchased by the Camper family,” Madison historian John Rankin said.

“Inside the cemetery, burial sites for both families can be found. The Farrald family is believed to be buried to the east of the entrance, and the Camper family . . . to the west,” Rankin said.

One reason for Mason’s choosing the Farrald-Camper Cemetery was its backstory. After Rankin marked the cemetery, a relative, Oliver Beirne Williams Jr., started working there. “Mr. Williams ended up taking care of the cemetery and adding lots of decorations you’ll find today. He began setting up a fence along its borders,” Mason said.

“After about 10 years, Mr. Williams passed away, leaving no one to take care of it and left it to rot away,” Mason said. “After hearing this story, I felt like repairing and renewing the site to honor all the hard work Mr. Williams put into the cemetery. I added a memorial plaque on the picnic table to honor Mr. Williams’s work.”

Mason started planning for his project around May 23 and completed all paperwork on Aug. 15. Overall, he needed 125 hours, with approximately 25 hours devoted to planning and gathering supplies; repair work at the cemetery required 100 hours.

During planning, Mason secured a first-aid kit, garbage bags, sanding belts and cooler. His work required a tarp, paint brushes, weed wacker, rakes, shovels, sander, pressure washer, handsaw for branches, wrenches and screwdrivers for bench assembly, picnic table, concrete and a bench.

“My project will help keep an important part of Madison’s past preserved. When we let these sites disappear, we lose a direct source of information about our town’s past. It’s important to keep that information and those sites safe,” Mason said.

A senior at Bob Jones High school, Mason participates in National Honor Society, Key Club and engineering program. “I enjoy playing baseball, whether for Bob Jones or a travel league,” Mason said.

Mason is undecided about a college but he knows that engineering will be his major.

Mason’s parents are Jeff and Kelley Freeman, who both work as aerospace engineers at Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Another contribution came from a Camper family member who nurtured a dogwood tree to massive dimensions. “It was a Camper who grew the large dogwood tree by his house on the east bank of Indian Creek along the north side of Old Madison Pike” and west of Cummings Research Park, Rankin said. “That was the same tree that was moved several years ago to Huntsville Botanical Garden.”

“Oliver Beirnie Williams told me his uncle grew the tree. It had long been a notable landmark to people driving by on Old Madison Pike when it was in bloom,” Rankin said.

The Campers were very much a part of Madison’s history, Rankin said. They not only lived on the land around the cemetery after buying it from the Farrald family, but family members also operated Madison’s first recreation center in the second town hall. The town hall was a two-story wooden building in the southwest corner of the Garner/Martin intersection behind Main Street, where the old 75-foot water tower later stood.

“In the early 1900s, about 100 years ago, very few towns had any recreation centers at all. Campers also operated tailoring and tobacco shops inside the old Twickenham Hotel in Huntsville. They bought the hotel as some of its last owners,” Rankin said.

In addition, the Camper family bought the Lanford-Slaughter mansion at 7400 Old Madison Pike, the largest and most prominent house in the area located on Indian Creek’s east bank just west of the current Raytheon building. One family member delivered coal oil and petroleum products by horse-drawn wagon in the early 1900s in the town area. They also operated an early automobile repair shop in Madison.

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