- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

MACON, Ga. (AP) - The man who helped put Macon on the map in the 1800s seemed to have fallen off the face of the Earth for those looking for his grave.

Scotsman Robert Findlay helped create a transportation and industrial hub after delivering the community’s first locomotive as rail lines were still being laid from Monroe County.

Findlay worked for America’s premier locomotive manufacturer, Matthias W. Baldwin, and escorted the first engines shipped to Monroe Railroad Co. In 1838, he ran the steam engine dubbed “Ocmulgee” for dignitaries shuttling between gala celebrations for the opening of the rail line from Macon to Forsyth.

Later, he built the Findlay Foundry at Third and Oglethorpe streets. He churned out nearly 100 stationary steam engines for mills all over the Southeast and advertised having the largest set of machine tools south of Philadelphia.

During the Civil War, the factory workers built Napoleon cannons for the Confederacy, which leased the building from Findlay’s sons for its arsenal.

But Findlay did not live to see that wartime operation. He died of pneumonia in 1859 and was buried in one of the first sections of Rose Hill Cemetery.

Records show at least five people were interred in the Findlay plot overlooking the Ocmulgee River, but no obvious grave markers could be found.

“I’m surprised he didn’t have a fence around it,” said Dick Findlay, his great-great-grandson who lives in Eatonton.

Ornate Findlay Foundry fences still delineate landscapes from Wesleyan Drive to Vineville Avenue and along 1206 Ash Street, a Victorian house built in 1880 by his son Christopher Findlay. That former Findlay home was restored in the ‘90s and currently houses the Tift College Alumni House at Mercer University.

Some of Findlay’s iron work and a cannon are in front of the Cannonball House.

Delma Findlay Watson helped restore that home through the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Watson also led the charge to locate and recognize her great-grandfather’s burial place but died in 2008 before anything was done.

Earlier this year, Dick Findlay and his wife, Doris, joined his brother, Prentiss Findlay III, and Gayle Findlay, widow of Watson’s brother, Cuyler Findlay, to renew Delma’s quest to find the gravesite.

They turned to cemetery administrator Marvia Mitchell, who maintains records for the cemetery that dug its first plot in 1840.

“We have lots and lots of old records here that are available to us, so we really start out with our oldest record, which is this very old map here from probably about the 1850s or ‘60s,” said Mitchell as she unrolled the golden brown document encased in plastic.

“To complicate matters, we have about a 26-year period of which we don’t have any records,” she said.

The Findlays are marked on the map near the river, but there was nothing but a grassy terrace where a concrete slab had caved into a brick vault.

“Once they found the land, we took sticks and poked around to find the graves,” Doris Findlay said.

This summer, the family commissioned a memorial headstone that reads “Robert Findlay, 1808-1859, and family.”

It is unclear if the graves were ever marked with anything other than the slab, or if anything had been stolen over the years.

One of Robert’s sons who served in the Civil War, James Nelson Findlay, died in 1866 at age 35. He is buried there along with another soldier for the South, Alexander Reynolds Sr., who was buried in 1891.

“We don’t know who he is,” Dick Findlay said.

The ancestors may never learn how he fit into the family, but posterity will now know the final resting place of Robert Findlay.

Only remnants of his accomplishments remain.

His ornate home that once stood at 785 Second St. made the National Register of Historic Places but was razed decades ago after serving as home to the YWCA. Gone, too, is the sprawling foundry on the site of what became the old state farmer’s market downtown.

Debts on both properties and the financial upheaval after the war closed the family business that helped build and strengthen the city.

Prentiss Findlay III is the last of the family living in Macon, where Robert settled some 176 years ago.

The terraced family grave overlooks the railroad tracks where locomotives pass daily, a fitting tribute for the city’s first engineer and chief of the original fire department.

“He died when he was 51 years old, but he accomplished a world of things,” Dick Findlay said.

___

Information from: The Macon Telegraph, https://www.macontelegraph.com

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