10 of the Oldest Cemeteries in Tennessee Every Taphophile Will Love

Updated on November 5, 2018
Kim Bryan profile image

This author is an avid taphophile (a.k.a. tombstone tourist) and particularly loves exploring cemeteries in Tennessee.

I love to spend spring and fall afternoons visiting cemeteries and strolling through the headstones, reading the names and other inscriptions. I find it peaceful and relaxing. Tennessee has plenty of old cemeteries that taphophiles such as myself should visit.

East Hill Cemetery, Bristol, TN/VA
East Hill Cemetery, Bristol, TN/VA | Source

1. East Hill Cemetery, Bristol

Straddling the Tennessee-Virginia border is East Hill Cemetery, established 1857. East Hill Cemetery has a section occupied solely by the remains of Confederate soldiers and veterans from the Civil War. Elsewhere in the cemetery, there is a section reserved strictly for black Americans. most of them slaves or civil activists of their time.

In 2011, East Hill Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

White Oak Flats Cemetery, Gatlinburg, TN
White Oak Flats Cemetery, Gatlinburg, TN | Source

2. White Oak Flats Cemetery, Gatlinburg

Most Americans are familiar with Gatlinburg, but only a small percentage of them know Gatlinburg was once called White Oak Flats.

White Oak Flats was first settled by John Ogle in the late 18th century. After cutting and hauling logs, preparing to build his family's homeplace, John set out to retrieve his family, anxious to get back and begin settling in.

Unfortunately, John Ogle died of malaria before he could return. Years later, his widow and his brother would return to the area to find the logs still waiting. The pair built the first home in the area—a log cabin currently preserved at the corner from of the Parkway and School Road.

White Oak Cemetery is a hidden Gatlinburg treasure. The best way to make sure you get there is to watch the following video.

First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee
First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee | Source

3. First Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Knoxville

When Knoxville founder James White was plotting his future east Tennessee city nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains—more than 150 years before it was a national park—with his surveyor son-in-law, he included a cemetery.

Unlike other church cemeteries, in this case, first came the cemetery in 1795 and then the church was erected adjacent to the graveyard in 1816.

Visitors to the cemetery will note there are a large number of graves marked only with the year "1838" chiseled in rock. It was during this year an unknown illness (possibly malaria) swept through Knoxville, killing many.

Visit the church's website for more information.

Wheat Community African Slaves Burial Grounds
Wheat Community African Slaves Burial Grounds | Source

4. Gallaher and Slave Cemeteries, Oak Ridge

Until the area known as Oak Ridge today was purchased by the United States government in 1942 for The Manhattan Project, the small town was known as Wheat, Tennessee, named after the first postmaster of the area.

The only reminders of what once was is the George Jones Memorial Baptist Church and Gallaher cemetery, and the slave cemetery, recovered and restored in 2000. Both were once part of the Gallaher-Stone Plantation.

Gallaher Cemetery Directions: Located about 500 feet north from the intersection of the Oak Ridge Turnpike and the road to the old K-25 Steam Plant, in a pine grove.

Slave Cemetery Directions: Go out Oak Ridge Turnpike toward Kingston (past Kingston/Lenoir City split), to 1.4 miles past Blair Road stoplight turn left on to gravel road just past ETTP Visitor Overlook.

University of the South Cemetery, Sewanee, TN
University of the South Cemetery, Sewanee, TN | Source

5. University of the South Cemetery, Sewanee

Soon after construction began on the Episcopalian school in 1860, the Civil War broke out and the building project was put on hold. Unfortunately, several founders of and contributors to the university at Sewanee were killed in battle and never saw their dream to completion. However, some of those said men are buried in the old cemetery located on school grounds.

For more information on this quaint Tennessee village tucked away in the mountains, visit WikiVoyage.

Zion Presbyterian Church, Columbia, Tennessee
Zion Presbyterian Church, Columbia, Tennessee | Source

6. Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Columbia

Established by the first settlers to the area in 1806, the Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Columbia is the final resting place for so many who fought bravely for their country. The cemetery hosts Veterans of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War.

For more information, visit the church's website.

Anderson Family Cemetery, Hurricane Mills, Tennessee
Anderson Family Cemetery, Hurricane Mills, Tennessee | Source

7. Anderson Family Cemetery, Hurricane Mills

Following her success as a country music singer, Loretta Lynn and her husband purchased the little town of Hurricane Mills—post office, church, and cemeteries included.

Within her sprawling ranch is the Anderson family cemetery, established circa 1870; named for the original owner of Hurricane Mills Plantation, John Anderson. Anderson, his immediate family, and descendants are buried here.

Riverside Cemetery, Jackson, Tennessee
Riverside Cemetery, Jackson, Tennessee | Source

8. Riverside Cemetery, Jackson

Riverside Cemetery in Jackson was established in 1824 to replace an older, unsustainable graveyard. Residents of the old cemetery were moved to Riverside. There are approximately 4,000 graves, but only 3,000 of them are marked. It is estimated that approximately 200 soldiers who died during the Civil War and slaves who died prior to 1965 lie here in unmarked graves.

Gray's Creek Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery, Arlington, Tennessee
Gray's Creek Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery, Arlington, Tennessee | Source

9. Gray's Creek Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery, Arlington

Adjacent to Shelby County's oldest black church, the Gray's Creek Missionary Baptist Church, is the cemetery acquired by former Virginia slaved who became Reverend Joseph H. Harris (a resident of said cemetery) in 1843. Most Caucasians buried there were removed to another cemetery, although a few remain. Many graves are unmarked as the cemetery continues to age.

Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee
Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee | Source

10. Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis

Historic Elmwood Cemetery is one of the first rural garden cemeteries in the South. Since its establishment in 1852, more than 75,000 people have buried here, including an estimated 1,000 Confederate soldiers, along with Tennessee governors, Memphis mayors, civil rights leaders, and war generals aside ordinary citizens.

Elmwood was designed with a park-like setting, as its founders envisioned families coming together celebrating their community and life as well as death. Visitors will find words only understate the beauty of this sprawling 80 acres of gently rolling hills, shady knolls, and pathways with benches.

Visit the Elmwood Cemetery website for more information.

East Hill Cemetery:
E Hill Cemetery Dr, Bristol, TN 37620, USA

get directions

White Oak Flats:
Parkway & River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA

get directions

First Presbyterian Church Cemetery:
620 State St, Knoxville, TN 37902, USA

get directions

George Jones Memorial Baptist Church,:
Blair Rd, Oak Ridge, TN, USA

get directions

University of the South Cemetery:
University Ave, Sewanee, TN 37375, USA

get directions

Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery:
2322 Zion Rd, Columbia, TN 38401, USA

get directions

Anderson Family Cemetery:
Hurricane Mills, TN 37078, USA

get directions

Riverside Cemetery:
300 Riverside Dr, Jackson, TN 38301, USA

get directions

Gray's Creek Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery:
3141 Inglewood Pl, Arlington, TN 38002, USA

get directions

Elmwood Cemetery:
824 S Dudley St, Memphis, TN 38104, USA

get directions

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Kim Bryan


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