Though I research graveshelters and have different methods for finding them, pretty much nothing in the search is better than just driving by one completely by surprise.
First, though, the best-known one in Alabama, Airmount, Also known as the Hope family grave shelter, it’s in the Thomasville area, and was built in 1853 by a member of the family. In 2000, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The roof that covers it now belies the barrel shape of the ceiling inside.
The graveshelter itself is approx 23′ 5″ by 12′ 4″.
This barrel-like shape is a vault also called a “compass” ceiling, and this graveshelter is the only known use of this style in the southern half of Alabama. From the NRHP application:
The roof design traces its origin to east coast rural churches like Christ Church of Laurel, Delaware; Merchant’s Hope Church of Prince George County, Virginia; and (to a lesser extent) Yeocomico Church of Westmoreland County, Virginia…Only Christ Church, Laurel, Delaware, does not have tie beams and in this respect it may be the best structural precedent for the Airmount Grave Shelter.
Roofing the grave shelter with a church roof type, though unusual, would have been comprehensible to some antebellum Alabamians, since burials of the eighteenth century were sometimes placed within churches. The permanence that the brick structure implies fits well within the funerary attitudes of South Alabama planters in the early- and mid-nineteenth centuries.
Although many of these planters lived in sometimes less than enduring frame houses, substantial and oftentimes elaborate brick, limestone, and marble monuments intended to last for a very long time are common markers of their graves. The abodes of the departed were often more elaborate or monumental than the abodes of the living in antebellum South Alabama. Why display in death was often more marked than conspicuous consumption in life has yet to be sufficiently answered. One explanation is that since monuments were more portable than dwellings, a higher level of design was accessible to the settlers of Alabama in their grave markers than in their houses…
There are four marble obelisks inside along with a more modern granite monument.
As an aside, look at all the mud dauber pipe organ nests
This is the Smith graveshelter at New Home Baptist Church Cemetery in the Bankhead National Forest, in Winston County AL.
Behind, this buggy for cemetery flowers
One other interesting find — these pyramid-shaped cairn (stacked rock) monuments at the Hayden Cemetery in New Hope, AL:
This is a carport-style Prescott family graveshelter at Antioch Primitive Baptist Church in Elba, Alabama
The infant monument here in the middle spells the last name with two S, different than all the others
And particularly nice, this very roomy structure for dinner on the grounds (it’s said so interchangeably, I think an equal number of people in fact probably call it ‘dinner on the grounds’ as often as ‘dinner on the ground’)
I’ve spent several years documenting all the graveshelters in Alabama, and have visited 45 extant examples (there’s still a handful that I’ve researched and need to check on). Do you know of a graveshelter? Please contact me if so. Thank you!