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East Texans bring attention to 'forgotten' Smith County cemetery

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SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) -

Some East Texas residents are bringing attention to a cemetery they say has been forgotten.

The 'University Cemetery' is located just off of County Road 274, about a mile east of Loop 323 in Tyler.

One neighborhood family is trying to find a way to restore some of the history that's being lost in the cemetery.

A small blue sign for 'University Cemetery' is the only indication there's a cemetery there.

But if you pass through a driveway and down a dirt road, you'll find what bothers neighbors like Garrick Pannell and his wife Angela.

"There is trees growing up and around, inside the graves, on top of the headstones, headstones removed, trash inside the cemetery, so in my opinion I just didn't think that was right," said Garrick Pannell.

Online, it's also known as 'Universe Cemetery,'  part of the Headache Springs Area, which dates back to the Civil War.

"The little research I did, back in 1861 this was a medical laboratory of the Confederate Army, and they made moonshine and whiskey," Pannell said.

Not all of the cemetery is run-down - one family plot has been locked behind a chain-link fence. But in other areas, graves of World War I and II veterans, babies, and whole families sit unmaintained, even knocked-down.

The Smith County Historical Society told us over the phone that Universe Cemetery is just one of dozens, if not hundreds of cemeteries that look like this in Smith County.

Pannell and his family have lived in the neighborhood for three years but didn't know the cemetery was even there until a few months ago.

"We see cars every once in awhile pass by and I've always wondered why they were coming behind these people's houses is what they were doing. And, well, this is what they'd been coming back here for," Pannell said.

And while he doesn't have an immediate connection to the cemetery, he hopes someone who does can help honor the people who rest here.

"I know it's not my family, but you know, there's war veterans out here. It definitely ought to be taken care of, especially for that reason," Pannell said.

We also spoke with Smith County officials by phone who said that there aren't any regulations for cemeteries in the county after they are created. They are the responsibility of family members or volunteers to maintain.

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