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Recorded History of the Nashville City Cemetery


October 21, 1865

THE CEMETERY MYSTRY- As the cave mystery has gotten into print, and as a vast amount of curiosity is evinced regarding it, we will state so far as known, what foundation there is for the exaggerated reports flying about. Near the cemetery, to the right of Summer street, on the railroad, is the entrance to some sort of cave, from which the military authorities are slowly removing earth, which is probably thrown up by parties inside. A person who was knocked down and robbed, it is alleged, made the discovery that his assailants entered the opening, and communicated, to the authorities the hiding place of a gang of villains. At any rate the military have a guard over the spot, and are excavating the place, and guards are placed over one or two private vaults in the cemetery, which are supposed to communicate with this underground hiding place. It was rumored last night that a man had broken from one vault and escaped, although fired at by guard. All sorts of stories are prevalent regarding the existence of caves beneath the city - the retiring places of Murrell and his gang. However, up to the present writing nothing decisive has been developed. The veritable circumstances of the case revives a great many stories of the subterranean Nashville, that quite astonish those addicted to the marvelous.

Nashville Daily Gazette
November 28, 1867

THE CITY CEMETERY- There is a proposition before the City Council to purchase ground for a new cemetery and to remove the remains of those now at the old cemetery. We would suggest the propriety of locating the new one at some point below the city, if possible. It is strange that it never entered the brains of the ancient City Fathers that the scum from the graves of Mount Olivet, and the old cemetery would, in the course of time infect the Cumberland river, and hence cause it not only to become loathsome, but unhealthy.

Nashville Newspaper
February 20, 1868

New Gate

We called attention to the fact some time ago that the gate which opens into the City Cemetery had gone to wreck. We are glad to notice that the proper authorities are putting up a new one, and repairing the fencing. The sacred city of the dead deserves to be kept properly enclosed.

Nashville Union & American
January 25, 1870

Ivy Stone 1870

Nashville Newspaper
July 1, 1870

City Mortality

During the month of June there were buried in the city cemetery 145 persons. Fifty-eight ere colored and eighty-seven white; sixty-four ere male and seventy-seven females, and the number of infants amounted to sixty-five. The following will show the cause of death.

Consumption 11
Diarrhea 5
Measles 7
Typhoid Fever 6
Whooping Cough 6
Dysentery 1
Bilious Fever 1
Pneumonia 6
Diphtheria 7
Teething 13
Flux 7
Inflammation of the Bowels 12
Pleurisy 1
Lock-jaw 1
Cholora Morbus
Disease of the Heart 2
Worms 5
Old Age 3
Brain Diseases 8
Small-pox 1

The following will show the comparative mortality approximately for the past three months: March 152; April 139; May 109. The above comprise only those buried in the city cemetery, about fifteen per cent should be added for burials in the other cemeteries. The city mortality for June is considerably ahead of the two previous months - diseases of children having proven very fatal.

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Nashville Union & American
April 4, 1871

Cemetery Depredations

Nashville & American Union
May 12, 1871


Dead Body Unburied and the Coroner's Inquest

Early yesterday morning, at a point near the centre of the city Cemetery a small coffin was discoveered, which, upon examination, was found to contain a white female infant, to all appearances placed there but a short time before. Attached to the coffin lid was a slip of paper, containing the words in pencil mark "Please do not open this box, but bury the babe for the sake of its unfortunate mother." A Jury of Inquest was summoned by Coroner P. W. Brien, and their verdict was briefly: "Premature birth–the mother unknown." Feeble, flickering light is thus shed upon the dark outlines of another hideous chapter of human misery––mayhap another instance of appalling ___________.

Republican Banner
Sunday, May 14, 1871


To Colonel J.W. Paramore, Superintendent Tennessee and Pacific Railroad.

Dear Sir- As the Memorial Society of Nashville is considerably in debt, we desire that you should run two Trains “Memorial Day,”


To Mt. Olivet Cemetery, and at such a rate as will leave a good profit to the Society.

Very Respectfully.
Matt. B. Pilcher
Chairman Trans. Committee.
Nashville, May 4, 1871.

To Captain Pilcher, Chairman Trans. Committee for Memorial Society

Dear Sir-In reply to your application for Trains, to be run to Mt. Olivet, on “Memorial Day,” I will say that I will run two Trains, with ample accommodations for every-body that wishes to go and come - stopping at the City Cemetery, also - and will donate all the receipts to the Society, over and above a reasonable compensation for the Trains - say $300. I will say further, that in case of rain, I will not hold the Society responsible for any loss. I can run Trains every fifteen minutes, if necessary.

Very Respectfully,
J.W. Paramore

Colonel Paramore’s proposition we consider a very liberal one, as he intended to run the Trains independently. The tickets will be placed at the moderate sum of TWENTY-FIVE CENTS each round trip. Last year there was money enough expended, hiring hacks at ten dollars each, to pay the Society out of debt. Should all go who take an interest in the re-interment of our brave soldiers, this road will pay half the debt.

To Captain Matt B. Pilcher, Chairman Trans. Committee.

Dear Sir- We will donate one-half of the CASH receipts of all persons going to and from City Cemetery, to the “Memorial Society.”

Thomas Chadwell.

This does not refer to tickets that may be sold, but to the cash paid. All who wish to contribute their mite, will pay ten cents each way, so one-half will go to the Society.
Matt. B. Pilcher, Chairman.

It is desired by the Association, that the gentlemen named below will be at their posts promptly by one o’clock Sunday, to ask and receive contributions from those attending:

CITY CEMETERY- General Wm. B. Bate, General B.R. Johnson, Colonel G.P. Smith, Colonel Hal Claiborne, Colonel Baxter Smith, Major J.L. Brown, Major George Deascher, Major Dick McCann, Captain W.H. Morrow. Captain Henry Clarke, Captain Samuel Kirkpatrick, Captain James Thomas, Jack Wheless. Matt Metlung.

MT. OLIVET, LEBANON GATE- General E. Kirby Smith, W.H. Jackson, Sam Anderson, Colonels John B. Anderson, Ed. Pennebaker, E.B. McClanahan, Major W.J.M. Hawkins, H.T. Massengale, Captain Hamp Cheney. Frank Green, Captains Harvey Martin, Thos. Gibson, T.M. Steger, R.P. Hunter, Irby Morgan, and John Overton.

MT. OLIVET-Entrance form Railroad- General B.F. Cheatham, General G.P. General O’Neil, Colonel J.C. Burch, Colonel Wm. Reese, Colonel Shelby Williams, Major Albert Akers, Captain E. Hickman, Major T.J. Foster, A. Roberts, Dr. McMurry, George Cunningham, Major G. Campbell Brown, John Thompson, Captain Alex Porter, Brad. Nichol, Captain J.H. Morton, Trimble Brown, Captain R.L. Caruthers, Tom Hamilton, Captain Dixon Wharton, W.H. Wharton, Captain Will Ewing. T.J. O’Keefe, Captain P. Manlove, T.H. Maney Captain Player Martin, Charlie Stockel.

Remember, the Association gets all over a stipulated sum from the Tennessee and Pacific Railroad. It will save time and trouble to buy tickets beforehand - can get them at W.C. Colliers, Paul and Tavel’s Dr. Harwell’s, Richards and Gordon’s, M.C. Cotton’s.

Mrs. Felicia G. Porter
President and Secretary
Mrs. Wm. H. Evans
Treasurer Memorial Society
Nashville, May 8, 1871

Republican Banner
Tuesday, May 16, 1871

Its Observance at the Cemeteries Yesterday

Yesterday was devoted by our citizens to the decoration of the graves of those who came not home from the field of war. This is ever a sad, yet precious duty which all are ready to fulfill. No political prejudice or unholy hate would dare to put forth a hand to deny this annual tribute to those who were the best among us. and whose highest privilege was to die as they have died.

Trains on the Tennessee and Pacific Railroad began to run early in the evening, and made repeated trips to a point near Mt. Olivet. Many went out by train and many by carriages. It was a clear, sunny afternoon, and the handsome grounds swarmed with throngs of visitors. Large numbers also visited the City Cemetery. Many well known and prominent ex-Confederates were to be seen among those who were visiting the graves. The flowers offered were numerous and not a grave but bore upon its breast a blooming token of remembrance and affection. A band was located near the grounds which have been devoted to the remains of soldiers alone, and funeral dirges gave an additional solemnity to the occasion. Gentlemen, stood at the gates to receive contributions, to be used to relieve the indebtedness of the Memorial Association, which amounted to about $1,500. We have not learned the amount received at the gates, but it must have footed up among the hundreds.

The following is a report of the sale of railroad tickets:
Major Jas. Maney, Tennessee and Pacific Railroad, 690 tickets, $172.50.
Cash on cars, $465.

Captain Eugene Smith, Nashville and Chattanooga, 371 tickets, $92.75.

Joe Martin, Nashville and Decatur, 350 tickets, $82.50.

M.C. Cotton, 87 tickets, $21.75.

Paul & Tavel, 28 tickets, $7.10.

Dr. J.R. Harwell, 21 tickets, $5.25.

W.C. Collier & Co., 17 tickets, $4.25.

Richards & Gordon, 8 tickets, $18. (sic).

Total receipts from tickets, $392.65; deducting the amount paid the road as per contract ($300), and adding the amount donated by the road ($57.35), will make the net receipts by the Association from this source, $150.

Amount received from S. N. Street Railroad. $21.45. Total $171.45.
Especial thanks are due Col. Paramore, Maj. Maney, Capt. E. Smith, Mr. Jos. Martin and the gentlemanly conductor, who volunteered their services for the day.

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Republican National Banner
January 18, 1874

January 18, 1874

Republican National Banner
February 6, 1874

City Cemetery 1874  Fence and Sewer

Republican National Banner
March 6, 1874

Article March 1874

Republican National Banner
May 6, 1874

Cemetery in Better Condition

Republican National Banner
May 12, 1874

Many Visitors - Need Appropriations

Republican National Banner
August 7, 1874

Young Lad Sees Large Snake

Nashville Union & American
December 2, 1874

Condition of the City Cemetery

Republican National Banner
March 12, 1875

Conversion to Memorial Park - Council Resolution

Nashville Banner
September 5, 1881

City of the Dead 1881

Nashville Banner
April 21, 1885

Letter to Editor April 1885

Nashville Banner
May 14, 1885

Letter to Banner May 1885

Nashville Banner
June 2, 1885

Meeting Notice

Nashville Banner
June 3, 1885

Test Case June 3 1885

Nashville Banner
June 4, 1885

Lot Owners Meeting Request

Nashville Banner
June 5, 1885

Meeting of Citizens at Merchants' Exchange

Nashville Banner
November 4, 1885

The Old Cemetery

The suit brought by the lot-holders of the city cemetery against the state board of health, the object of which is to make a test of the law preventing the burial of bodies in the cemetery, will be taken up one day next week in Jodge Reid's court.

Nashville Banner
December 7, 1885

Cemetery Case December 7 1885

Confederate Veteran
Nashville, TN
June 1904


In recognition of the bravery, endurance, self-sacrifice, and devotion of the Confederate soldier, seventeen monuments have been erected and four contracted for at the following places in Tennessee: Bolivar, Clarksville, Covington, Gallatin, Knoxville, Memphis, Lewisburg, Murfreesboro, Nashville, Chattanooga, Columbia, Franklin, Jackson, Lebanon, Memphis (N. B. Forrest, contracted for), McMinnville (contracted for), Nashville (Frank Cheatham Bivouac, contracted for), Paris. Shelbyville, Shiloh (contracted for), and Union City.

In 1870 the Confederated women of Nashville organized a Memorial Association. They elected Mrs. Felicia Grundy Porter President, Mrs. E.W. Hickman Secretary, and Mrs. Evans Treasurer. They bought a beautiful circle in Mount Olivet Cemetery, paying $1,500 therefor, Gen. William B Bate making the last payment of $300 thereon. In this circle they buried all of the Confederate soldiers found in the vicinity of Nashville at a cost of $4,300.

In 1887 the Confederate men and women of Nashville organized a Confederate Monumental Association, which was chartered by the State on May 9, 1887. Under this organization Col. John Overton was elected President, John P. Hickman Secretary, and Maj. M.A. Spurr Treasurer. The Confederate women immediately began an active canvass, and raised in Nashville and Davidson County exclusively $11,700. On May 16, 1889, the Association unveiled this handsome monument. It is erected in the center of the circle at Mt. Olivet Cemetery - over the graves of 1,492 Confederate soldiers, and cost $10,500.

The Association now holds in trust, under its charter, $1,200, the interest on which is to keep the circle and monument in repair.

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Nashville Tennessean and Nashville American
October 1, 1911

Nashville Offers Opportunity While the Graves of Her Honored Dead Grow Up in Weeds.

Damages at cemeteryOut at the end of Fifth and Sixth avenues there's a plat of ground which should be held sacred by every citizen of Nashville. This is the old City cemetery, where the mortal remains of some of the country's most illustrious sons lie in their final resting place. Names of statesmen, soldiers and men of God are inscribed on the monuments and slabs which today are all but hidden by the weeds and undergrowth which evidently for years have had undisputed sway over the hallowed grounds.

The graves of James Robertson, the founder of Nashville; Dr. Felix Robertson, his son and the first white child born in Nashville; a son and daughter of two signers of the Delcaration [sic] of Independence, Edward Rutledge and wife; seventeen mayors of Nashville, governors, generals, congressmen from old Tennessee and some of the south's most noble women are today sinking into earth and the stones over their heads are crumbling in decay because the people of Nashville haven't the time to stop and think. Throughout our city are tablets commemorating the deeds of our forefathers, while under our very nose their graves are in weeds and young trees are growing under their headstones and toppling them over as if the spirits gone on before are trying to wipe away the marks of their location.

Forty dollars a month is what Nashville, the City of Opportunity, gives from her millions for the upkeep of the last home of her dead. An old man, feeble and far gone in years, and an 14-inch lawn mower is the force that we have at work to combat the ravages of nature and time. The old man, who himself is almost ready to topple over into one of the half-filled graves, admits the absolute impossibility of making any kind of a winning fight with the facilities at hand. Where a caretaker and a crew of half a dozen men should be kept busy the year round, this old man and his limping horse are the only living creatures to break the stillness of this desolate and neglected place. The old horse is doing his part but even he could not be expected to eat the young trees that are yearly growing larger and larger in their effort to turn the once beautiful spot back into a wilderness.

On a trip through the old cemetery last week with ex-Councilman Charles A. Marlin, a Firing Line man was brought face to face with one of the most disgraceful conditions to be found anywhere in the city. Here and there once handsome monuments were seen leaning ready to fall, while others were braced with poles to stay their downward course. Beautiful vaults were sinking into the ground, vines hid the inscriptions on others, while the visitor took his life in his hands when he walked to the last resting place of men and women who made history and placed Nashville on the map. A whisky bottle in a prominent place marked the location of the orgies of some night before, while the southern part of the hallowed spot is said to be used as a regular beer garden by some of the lowest of our people. By lifting a steel trap door one may look directly at the decaying coffin that holds the bones of a once prominent man.

And this is the final opportunity that Nashville offers in death to such great characters as James Robertson, Edward Rutledge, Richard Stoddard Ewell, Gen. Felix Zollicoffer, Rebecca S. Hubbard, daughter of Benjamin Stoddard, the first secretary of the United States navy, George Washington Campbell, twice United States senator from Tennessee, secretary and treasurer under President Madison, minister to Russia under General Jackson and one of the three commissioners to settle the claims under the treaty of indemnity made with France, Alexander Porter, twice senator from Louisiana and for thirteen years a judge of the Louisiana supreme court; Edward West, the artist who painted the famous picture of Henry Clay; General William Carroll, the great soldier and governor of Tennessee for twelve years; Admiral Paul Shirley of the United States navy, Captain William Driver, the man who dubbed the United States flag "Old Glory"; Ephraim H. Foster, twice United States senator from Tennessee who once resigned his seat rather than obey the dictates of the Tennessee legislature and a vote for a measure he thought wrong.

This is the promise we offer the great men who select our city as the place where they wish their mortal clay laid to rest after its earthly race is run! Forty dollars a month! An old man, a 14-inch lawn mower and a hungry horse!

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Nashville Tennessean and Nashville American
October 8, 1911

Old Citizens Relate Interesting Stories of Some Great Underground Passageways

"Bob's Hole" in the City Cemetery Thought to Be Entrance to Mighty Caverns--Graves Disappear.

     How many people of Nashville know that they are living over a regular network of caves and underground passageways, or that perhaps only a few hundred feet beneath them the earth is hollowed out into mighty caverns where perhaps back in the mystic past ground men dwell safe from the dangers of an earth's surface. How many people know that one corner of the city hall of Nashville is resting on railroad irons to keep this big building from falling into the yawning abyss and at the mouth of our own Church street there is a gaping hole, the possible entrance to a myriad display of subterranean beauties?
     Who knows but that some day some citizen's back yard may fall in and reveal hidden wealth of untold value which many of the oldest inhabitants believe was stored away in these caves by the early American Indians or robbers during the troublous times of the civil war? There is a possibility that today families suffering from hunger and privations are living over veritable mines of gold and silver and precious stones, for no man has yet mustered sufficient courage to enter the gaping maw of any of these big caves. Strong men hesitate to go where only darkness and dead men's bones are known to be.
     Pipe dreams? Well, listen:
     Out at the old city cemetery, at the extreme southern end of the hallowed old burying ground, there is a spot known as Bob's Hole, into which a small stream pours, the outlet of which is unknown. A small portion of this water does come out beyond the buildings located on the site, but the greater volume of it is never seen again unless it is that stream which exudes from the side of the Cumberland river bank at the lower end of Church street. It is supposed by many in Nashville who have made a study of the caves beneath us, that "Bob's Hole" is the beginning of a system of underground passageways which traverse a serpentine route to the very heart of the business district of the city, touches the Public Square and doubles back down and across Second avenue to the lower end of Church street.

      Only a few months ago the paving on Second avenue near the Square caved in and the city was forced to spend considerable money making repairs. At that time the daily press made some reference to a cave which is supposed to pass along at this point.
     There are many explanations of the caves which are known to exist under and about Nashville, and some interesting stories can be told by numbers of citizens who were here during the war between the states.
     Ex-Councilman Charles A. Marlin, who is the recognized authority on Nashville history, is doubtless as well informed on this particular subject as any other one citizen of Nashville, as he has made it a point to talk with many of our oldest citizens and spent much time in personal investigation.

McNairy Vault in Black and White Before Restoration     "That there is a regular network of caves and underground passageways under Nashville cannot be denied," said Mr. Marlin last week while taking a Firing Line man over the supposed route of the main and best known of these big caves. "The first sign of the larger one is to be found at Oak street, near the end of Fourth avenue, south. From Oak street it runs diagonally across the city cemetery to where the little bayou enters Bob's Hole under the old compress. A tributary cave running from the McNairy vault directly toward Fort Negley enters the main cave at a point about two-thirds across the cemetery, and a still smaller one enters the main cave from the direction of the northern Fourth avenue gate. Along the routes of the main cave and its tributaries, the earth has sunk considerably and this causes many of the monuments to lean and in some cases completely fall to the ground. In fact, one can easily trace the courses of their passageways by the leaning tombstones which always settle toward the center. It is evident that the main cave must be at least twenty feet wide from the size of the larger depression.
     "The main cave and the only one I have particularly studied, shows up next on Sixth avenue, near Oak street, in a cellar, and then again in the railroad cut north of the Oak street bridge. Here it is running northwest. The next trace of it is found under the city hall, where it is generally understood that a lot of railroad irons keeps a part of that building from falling in. Then, again evidence of the cave is found on Second avenue, near the Public Square. Its last appearance is on the banks of the river, near the end of Church street, where a stream of water pours out of it into the Cumberland. Some people are of the belief that this main cave is a part of Demonbreun's cave, which has an outlet about two miles up the river near the city pumping station."

      The first discovery of this great system of underground passageways, according to Mr. Marlin, was during the war, about 1862. "Bob," an old negro slave, was digging a grave for a Federal soldier in the southern part of the cemetery. While at work and with no previous warning the bottom of this grave fell out and "Bob" came near losing his life. The site was at once abandoned, but the hole was not filled up. A short time after this Bob himself died, and the soldiers, not being so particular about an old slave as they were of their messmate, put some planks across the gaping pit and buried the old negro in the grave of his own digging.
     "A few weeks after his burial," said Mr. Marlin, "a big freshet came and the bottom again fell out of Bob's grave. Bob's body and the bodies of twenty-nine Federal soldiers who had been buried in shallow graves were washed into the opening together and no trace of them was ever seen again. It is supposed that Bob's bones and the bones of those brave men have long since intermingled and been washed into the muddy waters of the Cumberland. The soldiers are supposed to have died at Howard's school which was used as a Federal hospital from 1862 to 1865.
     "In those days the city cemetery comprised all of the territory between Oak and Chestnut streets, but toward the close of the war the burying ground was cut down on the south side and Burr's compress placed on a part of the site, while the Tennessee & Alabama or the Old Decatur road was put on the other part. Burr's compress burned down in the eighties, but the old depot still stands and is now used by the Nashville Warehouse and Elevator Co."

      Mr. Marlin says that at one time a heavy guard of Federal soldiers was placed at Bob's Hole and at the McNairy and Shelby vaults, as they thought Confederate spies were slipping into the city through these caves.
      W. D. Rose, with Bauman & Co., a firm on Union street, was in Nashville during these troublous times. When asked about the possibility that Confederate spies entered the city through one of these underground routes, he said:
      "I went out to the cemetery one day during the war and I saw a soldier walking back and forth at the mouth of the cave. There was also a detachment of Federals near by to back him up and divide time with him in standing guard. I remember the circumstance distinctly."
      William T. Perry, 1061 Second avenue, south, was a day laborer in the city cemetery at the time the main cave was discovered. In fact, he says he saw Bob's Hole fall in the first time. He, with five others, was assisting Tom McBride, the sexton at that time, in cleaning up the grounds. (Only one man is needed now.) He was also sexton at the cemetery from 1879 to 1888.
Mr. Perry's story of the finding of the main cave differs slightly from that of Mr. Marlin, though in no way do they discredit the belief that these caverns actually exist and are each a part of the others.

      While the Yanks had possession of Nashville," said Mr. Perry, talking slowly and as though the occurrence was only yesterday, "we were not allowed to bury any soldier in the city cemetery unless we had his name and the number of his regiment. So we put Bob (we gave him that name) in the tool house to await identification. Though the body was kept in this tool house for three or four weeks it did not decompose but seemed to dry up or petrify, no smell at all being perceptible. The boys used to sit on Bob's coffin and eat their noon lunches, talking to the corpse as they did so, asking Bob to have some of this or that, while some of the other fellows would talk back for him. Finally, not learning who he was and having nothing else to do with him, we buried Bob in a shallow grave in the southern part of the cemetery. William Davis, now dead, dug the grave."

     "A short time afterward, a big freshet came and the first thing we knew the water had covered Bob's grave and was swirling round and round like a whirlpool. The suction became greater and greater until there was a big hole in the center of the pool and the roar of the water could be heard for several yards. Without a moment's warning the whole thing, Bob and all, fell in. This place has since been called Bob's Hole, and I have no doubt at all but that it is the entrance to numerous caves which run under Nashville. I don't know where the water comes out, nor do I remember distinctly whether or not the soldiers guarded the McNairy vault, but it seems to me now that they did. From what I can remember of the occurrence, however, a man had been killed near Bob's Hole and it was thought that the murderer was in hiding in this vault or in some of the caves thereabout."

      Just how these caves came to be is a mystery, unless the theory of Dr. A. Winchell, formerly connected with Vanderbilt University and later professor in the University of Michigan, that a considerable portion of the state of Tennessee was once a part of an ocean bed, can be credited. In the event such was the case it is easy to suppose that in their search for an outlet the receding waters bored their way through the ground. In his "Sketches of Creation" Dr. Winchell explains his theory and leaves little room for contradiction.
     Regardless of what made them or how they came to be here, these caves actually exist. That some day they will be explored and new wonders opened up to the people of Nashville is more than probable. That the openings in the cemetery and on the river's edge lead to some wonderful cavern surpassing in beauty the great Mammoth Cave of Kentucky is more than possible, for the soil of Tennessee holds mineral properties conducive to pretrification [sic]. In many of our Middle Tennessee surface streams are found petrified acorns, twigs and even limbs of large trees, while many perfect specimens of mussels, snails and other gastropods in stone are everywhere over the state.

Nashville Tennessean and Nashville American
October 29, 1911

Cave-In Just Over Cavern Said to Exist Under City

When a visitor was walking around the City cemetery Saturday morning, it was discovered that a hole had appeared in the Rammage Claiborne section, near the Summer street gate. The hole is just under the edge of a chest-shaped monument in the section. The queer part of it is that instead of sloping towards the grave the hole slopes away, showing thereby that other influences caused the cave-in. The section is just over the mythical cave that has been noised around and which is supposed to contain the bodies of a number of Union soldiers. The cave is supposed to run under the cemetery and is said to continue up into the business section of the town.

The hole that appeared this morning will easily admit a man's body and is about seven or eight feet deep. This makes the fourth or fifth hole that has appeared recently in the cemetery and seems to throw some light on the mystery that surrounds the subterranean chamber beneath the city.

The monument under which the hole appeared is an oblong block about three feet high but Saturday morning it was sunk into the ground until the top could hardly be seen.

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Nashville American
Monday, August 31, 1914

(Robert Smiley
ID # 280459

Tombstone located at City Cemetery

Was First Male Member of First Presbyterian Church, and Died in 1823.
Church Will Decorate Grave at Centennial Celebration in November.

Smiley tombstoneThe grave of Robert Smiley, the first male member of the First Presbyterian church of Nashville when it was formed almost a hundred years ago, was discovered by Charles A. Marlin, custodian of the city cemetery, Sunday afternoon after search of thirteen months. Mr. Marlin had been asked by members of the church who are planning a centennial celebration of the church in November to find the grave. Mr. Marlin has also found graves of all the charter members of the old church except the graves of Mrs. Thomas Talbot and her daughter. The other charter members whose last resting places have been located are the following: Mrs. Andrew Ewing, Mrs. Mary McNairy, Mrs. Josiah Nichol, Mrs. Sophia Hall and Mrs. Patton Anderson.

The church was oganized [sic] November 14, 1814, but all the charter members were women except Robert Smiley. He died in 1823 and the grave has long since been obliterated to all eyes except Mr. Marlin’s, who patiently searched for it over the old cemetery, where thousands of the city’s famous pioneers have been interred. He found it Sunday afternoon all covered with ivy. It was originally a box grave with the sides walled with marble, but this has fallen away and the inscription was hardly legible after being exposed to the storms and suns of almost a century.

The inscription reads:

“In memory of Robert Smiley, a citizen of the town of Nashville. Born in Ireland September 18, 1783, died September 15, 1823, aged 40 years. His life was a triumph of Christian faith. In his last hours he uttered the words: ‘All is peace within me; peace with my God and peace with the world.’ Behold the upright man sees his end.”

The church is understood to be planning a week’s anniversary celebration in November and a history of the church is now being prepared. The graves of these charter members will be decorated by the church members and services will be held at the church. The first meeting of the denomination was held, according to Mr. Marlin, in the church of Dr. William Hume, on South Market street near Franklin street, before the present church was formed. It was organized by two ministers named Blackburn and Henderson at the Davidson county courthouse.

Nashville Newspaper
Circa 1927


A small army of workmen were busy this morning at the city cemetery trimming trees, working on the roadways, cutting grass, replacing parts of tombstones, all working toward a definite goal, the restoration of the cemetery to its former beauty so that its condition will be suited to the final resting place of many famous Nashvillians.

Over the workers the guiding hands of “Mrs. Alex Hunter, chairman of the restoration movement, and Mrs. E.W. Foster, Tennessee chairman of the patriotic service for Colonial Dames, held sway. The work is being carried on under the supervision of Philip Kerrigan, assistant street overseer of the city, and his foreman Chas. Riley.

Several months ago a movement was started in the city to restore the cemetery where a number of men and women who were influential factors in the early development of Nashville are buried. The city of Nashville appropriated $5,000 to the cause and the work was started.

Effort on the part of Mrs. Hunter has caused several civic organizations and lodges in the city to become interested in the work, and they have pledged cooperation by taking over the care of graves of members who are buried in the cemetery. The I.O.O.F., lodge will place markers at the grave of every such member.

Upon completion of the work it is the desire of those in charge to have the cemetery appear as nearly as possible as it did in its former days. The roadways will be of gravel, the trees trimmed and pruned to increase their length of life, and the tombstones and markers restored as nearly as possible to the state they were in when placed there.

Four keepers will be placed at the cemetery to keep the place in order when the restoration work is finished.

From Typescript
TSLA Manuscripts

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Nashville Newspaper
Circa 1927

James Robertson TombstoneLast year when the Gen. James Robertson chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution chose for a part of its work the restoration of the grave and lot of the Robertson family in the old city cemetery, its member did not know how close to the heart of Nashville they were approaching. For with the passing of the months, which saw the restoration and permanent marking of some of the Robertson graves the idea that the beautiful and historic old “God’s acre” in South Nashville should be preserved.

Only this week new manifestations of how close to the heart of the city this project lies was shown when Mayor Hilary E. Howse pledged to the chapter through Mrs. Alex Hunter, its regent, that the city would build a fence on the south and west sides of the cemetery, thus further bringing about the surety that it will not be effaced as the city grows.

Mayor Howse only several months ago aided the chapter in its work when he authorized Mrs. Hunter to serve as chairman and organizer of a City Cemetery association. This association has steadily worked towards the goal of having every owner of a lot in the old graveyard restore the resting places of the early Nashvillians buried there. It will hold its first meeting at an early date.

Not only has the mayor pledged that next year’s city budget will contain the price of the building of the fence but that with the fence will be planted a beautiful osage orange hedge, such as old accounts of its pristine beauty gave as having surrounded the cemetery.

Meanwhile indications that the idea of making the cemetery a place to which Nashville will be proud to point, is making headway, is shown in daily letters received by Mrs. Hunter. Many, many Nashvillians, now moved away or forgetful of the plots which their fathers maintained carefully there, have written back the warmth that they feel for the restoration of the cemetery.

Without letting the association know of their intentions, many have visited the cemetery, restored the sod to graves long neglected, straightened the stones and cut the hedges and vines about them. Others have sent messages of their intention to see that the same is done in their lots. Members of the organization hence feel that they have started something which of itself needs no further prompting, so dear is the cause to the hearts of Nashvillians.

As there many stones which were originally erected by the city, the state or various fraternal and civic bodies that have fallen into decay it is hoped that these groups will take part in their restoration.

For instance many of the members of the Daughters of 1812 are highly in favor of that organization’s taking the task of making the grave of Colonel Longinetti, a Frenchman who at the battle of New Orleans served as interpreter for General Jackson.

The Robertson grave which shelters the bodies of Nashville’s founder, his wife, their son and his wife, has been beautifully restored. The grave of Prof. Felix Robertson who served as mayor of Nashville, who was the first white child born in Nashville, and who was a professor in the old University of Nashville, was unmarked until the D.A.R. chapter placed over his grave a box tomb to match that of his father’s grave.

Many years ago when there was an effort to efface the old cemetery and make of the ground a plot it was saved by the Federation of Women’s Clubs of South Nashville. So dear was the old cemetery to the women of that section that they placed a stone gate entrance at that time and they now have pledged to keep this gate in permanent repair.

The work grows of itself because of its nearness and dearness to the hearts of the people of Nashville.

Prepared 2009
From Typescript
TSLA Manuscripts

June 23, 1929

A few years ago the tombs in the lot of Gen. James Robertson, founder of Nashville, were broken and weed-grown. The James Robertson chapter of the D.A.R. had made repairs and planted the grounds. Violets from the roots which Mrs. Robertson brought from Virginia border the walk, as do hand-made bricks from the old Robertson home in West Nashville.

Old City Cemetery’s “Sacred Soil” Will Be Redeemed With Repair.


If you drive south on Fourth Avenue some afternoon when the sun is low, and stop at the City Cemetery, get out of your car and take a stroll along its grassy walks, you can spend a pleasant two hours.

There on the ancient stones marking the graves of Nashvillians from the time of General Robertson, the city’s founder, one can read the history of the community.
The movement for restoration of the City Cemetery, which was started by Mrs. Alex G. Hunter and the Gen. James Robertson chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, has progressed to the point where few traces of its former neglect are visible. Gravestones have been straightened, iron fences about various lots repaired and the grass everywhere cleared of any dead leaves, broken branches and other debris.

The lot in which General Robertson and members of his family are buried is maintained by the D.A.R. Chapter which bears his name. A gravel walk leading from one of the main drives to the lot has been made. This lot bordered with myrtle, and the lot itself, its graves and the iron fence about it have been restored to their ancient dignity.

The Robertson lot might well be taken as model of what could be done in the way of complete restoration of the cemetery. It should, and will in time, become one of the city’s most important shrines, and those who will visit it now and see what has been accomplished lend support to the efforts being made to render it worthy in every way as a last resting place for those illustrious Tennesseans who are buried within its walls.

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1959 Article about Cemetery

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The Nashville City Cemetery Association, Inc.
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Nashville, TN 37215
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