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Posts Tagged ‘cemetery’

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It was a beautiful autumn day almost exactly a year ago when I finally visited Bookwalter United Methodist Cemetery, which had been on my list for years.  It is a large–over 4,000 graves–cemetery, and has been in continuous use from the 1880s to the present day.

Many of the earliest graves are those of the Swiss/German immigrants who settled the nearby area now known as Dutch Valley.

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Atop a hill with views of Sharp’s Ridge, Bookwalter Cemetery transcends its humble location, hemmed in by a busy street in front, train tracks in back, and neighborhoods on both sides.

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The peaceful silence one associates with cemeteries was notably absent.  In addition to traffic and train noises, I was assailed by the sounds of barking dogs, blaring radios, and bawling babies.  Most disturbing of all, at the back of the cemetery I was transfixed by an argument going on in an adjacent neighborhood, where a landlord was banging on the door of a rental property and making telephone calls to his renter who was evading his attempts to collect rent.  I could not tear myself away from this troubling drama  of the living unfolding just yards away from this not-so-peaceful resting place of the dead.

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The section of the cemetery nearest to the railroad tracks is partly devoted to the graves of infants and small children, although there are others scattered throughout the cemetery.  This post is being published in October, a month set aside for mourning pregnancy and infant losses, so it seems appropriate to point out that heart-wrenching stones and tiny graves are not only a thing of the distant past.

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This is a decently kept cemetery, with a few exceptions.  By now I have learned that there are always exceptions.

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I have learned that the city has taken on responsibility for the maintenance of the cemetery, taking over from the Police Department which had been mowing it for the sake of the surrounding neighborhoods.  Why is the city having to do this?  Well, that is an interesting story which we will get to below.  But first, a sampling of some of the modern-day stones and epitaphs which caught my eye for one reason or another.

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As I wandered through the cemetery I noted the signs below.  I knew there would be a story behind this.

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There was actually a surprising dearth of information about Bookwalter Cemetery online*, and this lack of historical background may be significant to what I did find–a series of legal documents indicating that the state had been forced to involve itself in the affairs of one portion of the cemetery.  Like many old cemeteries, this one doesn’t have clear ownership, and what was worse, neither did the graves.  Several people laid claim to the same plots and there were insufficient records kept to indicate whose claim was true.  A complete survey of the cemetery had to be conducted, determining how many plots there were and which had bodies therein, with arbitration being conducted to make sure that everyone who laid claim to a plot got one.  What a mess.

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So I am providing you–and me–with another cautionary tale:  before you buy a plot make sure the cemetery you choose is owned by a responsible company that is not only going to provide upkeep but that also maintains accurate records!

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*EDIT:  A reader tells me (see comments below) that the first half of the cemetery is properly called Bookwalter United Methodist Church Cemetery and is maintained by the church, and that the back half is Bookwalter Community Cemetery and is maintained by the state.  I did look for information on the church’s website before writing this post, and there is no mention there of the cemetery.  I also checked public records in which the cemetery appears as a single entity.  I appreciate his clarification.

For more cemetery stories, visit this post.

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Wow, y’all.  If you are interested in history you really need to visit Lebanon in the Forks Presbyterian Cemetery.  Honestly, my visit left me a little awestruck.

But let me back up.  Emily and I went walking Saturday, as we are wont to do.  We picked our destination off a list of Knoxville Greenways, and ended up on the Holston River Greenway, which we had not visited in years.  My pictures from our walk will probably turn up in another blog post, but it’s not a super-long trail and we weren’t ready to go home when we finished walking, so we decided to drive around for a bit.

Now, I’ve lived in Northwest Knoxville, West Knoxville, South Knoxville, North Knoxville, and now Northwest Knox County, but never in East Knoxville.  So this is always a fun area for me to explore.  And as we drove I remembered that I’d seen a cool old cemetery somewhere across Boyds Bridge.

We found it on Asbury Road, right at what signs warn drivers is a “non-negotiable turn,” which also happens to be right at the Forks of the River (where the Tennessee splits into the Holston and French Broad, for those who don’t know).  Lebanon in the Fork is what it’s called, and it lays claim to the title of oldest cemetery in the county.

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The church that once stood there is gone now–burned in a 1981 fire–but its predecessor was built on this site before Tennessee was even a state (1793).  And people were being buried here before then–trappers, hunters, and soldiers–although their graves are unmarked.

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Mrs. Elizabeth Carrick’s grave is marked, though–and hers is the oldest marked grave in the county.  According to an 1875 history of the church penned by Dr. J.G. M. Ramsey:

Among the first Christian interments here was that of Mrs. Carrick.  It occurred on the day of the contemplated attack upon the infant Knoxville by the Indians, Sept., 1793.  All the inhabitants who would bear arms had gone to its defense, and relations and remains of Mrs. Carrick were brought down in a canoe, on the Holston River and deposited in the church yard, attended and buried by women only.

Another grave of note is that of Francis Alexander Ramsey, father of the aforementioned historian, builder of Ramsey House, and Tennessee–or should I say FRANKLIN–statesman.

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Inscription on Ramsey’s grave

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Ramsey’s grave from the side, showing his wife’s inscription

The cemetery is overflowing with Ramseys, actually, including the historian, as well as quite a few McNutts, some Dicksons, and many other interrelated families.  The last burial here took place in 1976, but the majority were during the 1800s.

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There are a number of epitaphs that I’m sure would be delightful, but they are just too old to read.  There are also some unique carvings.

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We’ve got war heroes here from three separate conflicts.  The Ramseys’ Confederate sympathies landed them in deep trouble, according to the histories I consulted.

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I don’t know the story of the fellow buried below, but I’m imagining that he died as a victim of the Gold Rush.

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I’m not going to waste too much time complaining about the condition of a 200 year old graveyard that hasn’t seen active use in a hundred years, but I really wouldn’t need to anyway because this place is mostly in great shape.  There are a few overgrown graves and the steps that once led into the cemetery are impassable (but they’d be inaccessible at this point anyway), but over all this graveyard is being well cared for.

There is no fence around the churchyard, which is surrounded on all sides by property belonging to the quarrying operation further up Asbury Road, but there are obstacles in place should you try to wander too far:

 

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Dr. Ramsey’s history describes the site like this:  “[T]he site for the church edifice was an eminence in the center of a beautiful grove of cedars and other trees, covered by vines forming a dense arbor and a shady bower which excluded the sun.”

At least one of those cedars still stands, and the eminence on which the graveyard sits makes for some impressive views.

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This is just a lovely cemetery that anyone with an interest in Knoxville history will enjoy.

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So you chose to walk around Mead’s Quarry and took the Tharp Trace Trail starting at the harder end.  Don’t feel bad because you are going to come upon a nice place to slow down and catch your breath not far from the end of the trail.  Stanton Cemetery is now maintained by Ijams, so not only is it in good shape, the answers to many would-be mysteries, like the one below, are explained on the information sign above.

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You can’t tell by looking at my pictures, but these two stones, while side by side as you would expect for a husband and wife, are facing the opposite directions.  Mr. and Mrs. Dempsey, therefore, are not really lying next to each other.  They sleep separately in death as they did in life, because they were divorced!

The day I visited this cemetery the leaves were just perfect for pictures.

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I imagine these folks are the ones whose name the cemetery bears:

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There were many sweet and touching baby headstones in here.  This hand-lettered one tugged at my heartstrings:

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This little girl’s old-fashioned names are back in style today:

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More babies:

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From graves marked only with rocks to others with unusual decorations and creative inscriptions, there is a lot of variety here.  Notice particularly the name and the date on the stone below–apparently the Simpsons had strong feelings about the coming Civil War.

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Something about this place–perhaps the secluded location–gives it an especially peaceful feeling.  Luckily, you don’t have to walk the hard part of Tharp Trace to get to it.  Mead’s Quarry is a hopping place these days, but you can reach this oasis of calm with only a few minutes’ walk.

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Perhaps you’ve wondered how I choose which cemeteries to visit and write about.  There isn’t just one answer.  Sometimes I choose one that I’ve driven by many times and have always wanted to visit.  Sometimes lately I ask my phone for advice on the nearest cemetery!  And sometimes I just happen to see one I’ve never seen before and I stop.

That’s what happened a couple of weekends ago, when I was up early on a Saturday taking Lorelei to a Girl Scout event at St. John Neumann School.  Driving home, I decided to take the back road, a road (Yarnell) I hadn’t driven in many years, and this little church caught my eye:

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And there was a graveyard behind it!  I was so excited!  I couldn’t stop right then, but I went home to take care of my duties there with plans to return before picking up Lorelei.  When I did, I was rewarded with this:

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This is truly one of the loveliest, most picturesque, and peaceful graveyards I have encountered.  I took over 50 pictures here!

The whole graveyard is bisected by a winding drive, with graves on narrow strips along either side.

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The earliest burial in this cemetery was 1866, as far as I can tell–and members of that family (the Marcums) are still being laid to rest here today.

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Yes, this is still a very active cemetery, with several burials this century, and flowers on many of the graves.

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It’s also a very nicely kept place, with only a couple of exceptions:

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Some people might question my fascination with tombstones, saying that our deeds should serve to memorialize us, not monuments erected over our graves.  I think that’s why the baby graves are so important–these little ones never had a chance for action.  If their parents are gone, these stones may be all that’s left to show they ever existed, that they were important, that they were loved.

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Many of these little ones have their death certificates posted on Find-a-Grave, and it’s heartbreaking to read about the ailments that killed children back then.

Like all graveyards, this one has its mysteries, starting with this one:

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I figured there must be a good reason for a Jewish couple to be buried in a Christian cemetery, and it didn’t take much research to discover that Mrs. Kraut was born into the Stansberry family, many of whom are buried here.

Another mystery is the pattern of graves in the cemetery.  Just behind the church are many older graves, most from the 1940s, and the remains of stone pathways.

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As you walk the path away from the church, graves on both sides are much newer looking.  But if you walk all the way to the end, the neat layout gives way to scattered 1800s graves, many too old to even read clearly.

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Byrd’s Chapel Methodist Church was organized in 1934, so the graves directly behind it make sense.  But death records show a cemetery here called Byrd’s as early as 1915.  Did this start as a family graveyard that became a community cemetery and only later a church site?  I have not been able to find out.

Here are a few final things that caught my attention:

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When you start paying attention, cemeteries start popping up EVERYWHERE.  Seriously, just take one day to pay attention to how many of them you drive by.  You know how it is, when you see something every day you sort of stop seeing it at all.  So last Saturday I decided to visit two cemeteries that I pass on a regular basis.

First stop was Grassy Valley Baptist Church Cemetery, which is located at the church of the same name at the corner of Lovell Road and Kingston Pike.

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This isn’t your secluded, peaceful location, as you see above, though I suppose it was way out in the country when it was founded in the late 1880s.  Here’s the original sign:

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You know what they say about East Tennessee–there’s a church on every corner.  And most of them look more or less like this one:

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This is a nicely kept cemetery, especially given its proximity to a major road and businesses.  It’s trash-free, the grass was mowed, and the broken stones were minimal, although there’s always room for improvement:

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This cemetery is full of Kirbys and Llewellyns.  Wow, there were a lot of them.  Which made sense when I looked it up afterwards and found that the Kirbys donated the land for the cemetery and the Llewellyns donated the land for the church.

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Woody, Gray, and Grady were other common names.  The church was founded in 1880, and I think 1890 was the earliest burial I saw, with the latest being in 2003.  That one was the spouse of someone who had died a long time ago, though.

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I saw no evidence that this is an active cemetery.  Most of the burials took place from the 1890s through the 1940s.  But people are still visiting the graves:

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Every graveyard I’ve visited has baby graves.  Every graveyard is the final resting place for people who lived long and happy lives and people who met with tragic and early ends.  I wonder about the stories behind some of the stones I saw in this one, and feel so bad for parents who lost their children:

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Also notable here are ornate stones with long and unusual inscriptions.  I wish I had been able to decipher them all.

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Grassy Valley Baptist Cemetery is a pleasant and beautiful oasis in the commercialized ugliness of Kingston Pike, a reminder of what this area must have been like in earlier (and not that much earlier) times.

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