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Place of rest
Family-owned cemetery celebrates 50th anniversary

NORCROSS - When Jeff Crowell was a boy, none of his friends wanted to sleep over at his house.

After all, his father had begun a cemetery business outside.

But 50 years since Peachtree Memorial Park opened outside Norcross, Crowell still loves that old bedroom, which is now his office.

The cemetery, the first perpetual care cemetery in the county, is now the final resting place of hundreds of men, women and children, and Crowell has his own plot picked out.

"I just love this place," he said, standing on the small knoll he chose for his own burial, overlooking the nearly 100-year-old house he grew up in. "We've got blood, sweat and tears here. When people use the funeral home here, we feel like they are part of my family."

'Happy stories, sad stories'

Raising his two young sons, Charles Crowell was in the road-grading business.

But when he learned about an Athens cemetery, where family members did not have to care for their loved ones' grave sites, he decided to convert his then-120-acre property to a cemetery.

Then, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard ended at Interstate 285 and goats and cows roamed the property.

Jeff Crowell was five at the time. He remembers the first burial as a time when the adults were tense. The first was for a child, Shelia Jean Lawson.

"Everything was done by hand; you dug the grave by hand," he said. "I remember how nervous everybody was."

Crowell decided with his brother, Alan, to enter the family business when their father thought about selling the cemetery in the 1970s. They opened Crowell Brothers Funeral Home in 1978, becoming one of the first to have a funeral home and a cemetery at the same location.

Services were first held in the old house, with a casket set up in front of the fireplace in the parlor and as many as 50 folding chairs filling the space.

"I can tell you happy stories, sad stories, in-between stories," Crowell said. "In this type of business there are always tragedies."

In the 1980s, the current funeral home opened on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, but the old house still serves as the cemetery office.

Perpetual care

In 50 years, the cemetery has been decorated with statues of Italian marble and the lawn is meticulously kept. Crowell himself plants seeds and applies the fertilizer.

That's the main benefit of a perpetual care cemetery, where 15 percent of the burial costs are kept in a trust to ensure the cemetery is maintained even after the Crowell's second generation is gone. In cremations, 7.5 percent of costs go to the trust.

Many church and family cemeteries, he said, are kept up once a year, when families hold picnics and bring their lawnmowers and flowers. After the second generation, he said, the graves are often left forgotten. For churches, he noted that his own congregation moved into a new building twice, leaving the old cemetery behind.

"You don't have to worry about that here," he said. "That's taken care of."

Peachtree Memorial Park also offers mausoleums and both burial and mausoleum space for cremation remains.

Charles Crowell's body lies in the mausoleum's chapel, where many of the stone surfaces are decorated with flowers, flags, fruit and photographs.

The cemetery is also the final resting place of Gov. George Busbee, who chose a plot overlooking the old family barn.