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Descendants see grave stakes in land battle

Jesse Swor..."It's a no-man's land."

The Dallas Morning News


April 10, 1980

by Stephen Kenny

Jessie Swor's body lies a-moldering in the grave.

But, as things stood Wednesday, his tombstone and the graves of perhaps 300 Dallas pioneers soon may become part of the foundation of an ultra-modern, all-electric townhouse.

It's a situation that has Jesse Swor, a distant relative of the other Jessie Swor, steaming at the city and county officials over a 5-acre tract of land that was the cemetery of pioneers in North Dallas 100 years ago.

The land, on Northwest Highway between Midway and Lemmon, officially belongs to no one, but Swor is afraid land-hungry developers will grab up the land and turn it into townhouses.

"It's a no-man's land," said Swor, a 67-year old florist who is determined to save his ancestor's burial place from the bulldozer. "Nobody wants to take care of it, but everybody wants to develop it."

The fate of about 300 mostly unmarked graves in the small cemetery that once surrounded a Methodist chapel are at stake in Swor's battle to preserve the graveyard.

In 1868, when the cemetery was founded by a Methodist minister, the Rev. W.H. Houghes, the graveyard was the burying ground for the hundred or so cotten farmers who worked the land in northern Dallas County, then known as the Smith-Hall area.

A dirt road ran in front of the chapel, connecting it and the more famous Cochran's Chapel to Dallas, about 8 miles to the south.

The rural area of northern Dallas County was absorbed by the City of Dallas in the 1930's. The dirt road became the Northwest Highway shortly after that, and the cemetery began to go to seed as the descendants of the county pioneers began to die or move away.

Only Swor, his wife Ruth and Mrs. Rod Bell periodically traveled to the cemtery to pull weeds.

The land, Swor estimates, is now worth $300,000. The small graveyard is squeezed between an apartment complex and a townhouse project.

The graveyard, most of its headstones stolen or damaged, lies in between.

Swor and his wife spent several hundred dollars of their own money in 1977 to clean the bottles, cans and scrap papers from the cemetery. But their constant pleas to city and conty officials have gone unanswered.

"I've begged and I've pleaded with them to do something," Swor said. "I wrote (County Commissioner) Jim Jackson and (former County Judge) John Whittington. Both said it was the city's problem. I've talked with (Assistant Parks and Recreation Department Director) Phil Huey, and he has said the city would do something. But you can see for yourself that nothing's been done."

Huey did not return phone calls Wednesday about the cemetery.

"I'm not going to let them develop this place," Swor said. "I've chased off squatters. I've raised Cain with the developers of the townhouses as they messed the place up. The only thing the city did was come out and survey the place. They let the town houses be built right on top of the property line."

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