By Jonathan K. T. Smith
Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1992


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            RIVERSIDE CEMETERY is one of the most historic places in Jackson and Madison County, Tennessee. It is also hallowed ground because therein lie the remains of many of the founders and early citizens of Jackson; some of their descendants still bury their dead there, along with some who simply cherish this place and want to be buried there after their lives have closed. The occasional indigent have been buried for generations on its southern slope.

            The cemetery is well-kept compared with many of our older burial grounds. The Parks and Recreation division of the Jackson government maintain this picturesque city of the dead. It is completely fenced; on the west facing Riverside Drive there is even a sturdy brick wall that protects the cemetery from the casual intruder as well as making it more attractive. These grounds are divided into natural sections created by long east-west streets, eight of them (easily connected by two long north-south drives), beginning with "first street" at the entrance on the northwest corner of the cemetery.

            For many years the cemetery was practically surrounded by local industries and just to the east, were located the railroad shops, from which corrosive chemicals spewed, by smoke and steam, those that dissolved many of the inscriptions on the tombstones, until there are numerous such stones now unreadable, mute sentinels for those buried beneath their shadows. Many of the older stones are literally disintegrating while some, even among the oldest tombstones there, resist decay.

            Tombstone inscriptions are sources of cultural, historical and genealogical information, therefore students, historians, genealogists and the curious among us, frequently visit this cemetery for the information inscribed on the tombstones. There, also, one may take delight in the beautiful tombstone designs and shapes. The place abounds in exquisitely inscribed stones. To walk among the graves, looking at this tombstone "art" and reading what one may of the epitaphs, particularly those of the nineteenth century, is an esthetic experience.

          A cemetery by itself is not a source of morbidity; only the morbid mentality generates that negative attitude towards what, after all, is simply a burial place for the once-living. Every species of human character is reflected in the burials of this cemetery.


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        The following beautiful and eloquent statement is taken from the "Village Grave Yard," written by the Reverend Mr. Greenwood of Boston, as quoted in THE RANDOLPH RECORDER, Tipton Co., Tennessee, June 21,1834:

I never shun a graveyard. The thoughtful melancholy which it impresses is grateful rather than disagreeable to me. It gives me no pain to tread on the green roof of that mansion whose chambers I must occupy so soon; I often wander from my choice, to a place where there is neither solitude nor society. Something human is there, but the folly, the bustle, the vanities, the pretensions, the competitions, the pride of humanity are all gone. Men are there, but the passions are all hushed and their spirits are still. Malevolence has lost its power of harming, appetite is satiated, ambition lays low and lust is cold, anger has done raving, all disputes are ended, and revelry is over; the fellest animosity is deeply buried and the most dangerous sins are safely confined. . . .



            "The first cemetery in Jackson was in a chestnut grove on Johnson street, northwest from the stone bridge on Poplar street [where Johnson street enters Airways at its intersecting with west Main street, opposite City Lumber Company, where nearby still runs, though not in view, an old branch, a tributary of the South Fork of the Forked Deer River]. Colonel [Samuel] Taylor and a number of the other pioneers were buried there. This cemetery was abandoned when Riverside Cemetery" was established." The old cemetery seems to have been forgotten after its abandonment and the land was laid off into lots and sold. About 1873 or 1874 there was a brickyard established on the ground and a large quantity of bones of the dead were exhumed in the excavations made. Among them were the bones of Colonel Taylor, who was recognized by his spurs that were buried with him. The remains of a Mrs. Shannon were also recognized by a peculiar comb in her hair." ("Madison County," by J. G.Cisco, THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, volume 8 (January 1903), #l, page 27)

            Evidently many of the older graves were relocated with their tombstones, to the new "city cemetery," later known as Riverside Cemetery; this having been done sometime after Samuel Lancaster deeded what is the southern section of this cemetery to the city of Jackson for five dollars on October 26,1850, through the chairman of the county court, John Henry Day. This enterprising businessman had maintained his own family's burying ground there, on a rise just east of Bolivar street and/or McClanahan's turnpike (now Riverside Drive), and he had also sold lots adjoining his own at this location for burial purposes to George Snider, William H. Long, Amos W. Jones, Asbury Pegues, Sanders Brown and William W. Gates. Among the black pioneers buried there were servants of Samuel Lancaster as well as of the more esteemed blacks of later times.


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            Samuel Lancaster had kept some lots for himself, evidently with a view to selling them. To John Chester, late in 1859, he sold lot 62 in the middle tier of the new addition to the cemetery, for ten dollars. Hence, it is known that the cemetery had at least been divided into formal burial lots prior to this time. (Madison County Deed Book 21, page 546)

            In two large lots of the cemetery lie "all that was mortal" or the remains of Confederate soldiers. There is some question as to the exact numbers of the dead buried in each lot. Those in the lot on the south slope were likely killed or died from wounds received in the battle at Britton Lane in southwest Madison County, while those in lot 224 were interments made at different times throughout the war.

            The City of Jackson acquired an acre and a sixth of land, mostly an old cornfield and site of small buildings, directly on the north side of the cemetery, June 3, 1872; there was a great need for land with which to expand the cemetery. This land was purchased from Thomas L. Robinson for $1340.75 (from land he had purchased from the Stodderts), and the 1877 Beers map of Jackson still shows his name at this location. This deed of conveyance was registered July 2, 1879. (Madison County Deed Book 30, pages 202-203; ibid., 29, page 224)

            About 1878, the cemetery was renamed Riverside Cemetery. Streets were laid out in it; walkways were provided between some lots. For many years, city officials took an interest in the maintenance of the cemetery. Early in 1903, Samuel C. Lancaster, city engineer, surveyed and properly platted, renumbered the burial lots. (JACKSON DAILY SUN, Feb. 6, 1903) Some lots had been sold or re-sold, whereon there had been long-ago burials; even so these older graves were respected. This is the reason one finds older burials in lots belonging to unrelated families. The older lot numbers were cancelled and renumbered, starting with the lowest numbers at the new main entrance of the cemetery.

            Late in 1937, the cemetery was once again surveyed and platted by a civil engineer, E. R. Dike, who also utilized the 1903 survey. The grounds were surrounded by brick and wire fences. A smaller, walk-through gate (no longer conveniently used) was provided at the extreme northeast corner of the cemetery. Earlier that year, in April, a young Jacksonian, Mr. Ingram James, working for the W.P.A., read and transcribed the inscriptions from the Riverside tombstones, as best he could. Posterity owes his memory respect for he made a real effort to read these stones.

            Many years later, in 1975, the Mid-West Genealogical Society, Jackson, took on as a project the re-reading and recording of the Riverside tombstones. They too did their work well, particularly with the post-Civil War era stones.

            I have spent many hours, in all kinds of weather (important in reading old tombstones, allowing for sun and its shadows and rainfall which fills thin old lettering), copying the old inscriptions that seemed most in need of "re-reading."


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            The tombstones in Riverside Cemetery are generally made from varying qualities of American and Italian marbles, Vermont and other granites. Many of the stones bear the names of the stone-cutting concerns where they were produced; some were made in distant places such as Louisville, Kentucky; most were made in closer towns, such as Memphis and Brownsville; many are the products of local stone-cutters. Notable among the latter, for the last twenty-odd years of the nineteenth century into the present century, was J. T. Whitehead and company.

            Roman style lettering was used in the inscriptions on the earlier Riverside tombstones, or a close script thereof, such as those of Almedia Talbot and her infant son, the older Newsom stones and the Elijah Bigelow tombstone. Such large, deeply incised lettering has survived and may be read easily. However, the Italic style of lettering, lovely as it was, came into fashion and remained popular, locally, for much of the last century. This was a fine line, more ornate lettering style. This script "weathers badly and often only the heavy, deeply carved vertical strokes remain. The delicate hairline cross strokes disappear, often leaving indistinguishable the numbers 1, 7 and 4; and 3, 8 and 9." ("Stones of Many Colors," UNDERFOOT, by David Weitzman, New York,1976, page 72) Even so, I made a commitment to read all such lettering as conscientiously as I could and in some instances, I called in a few persons to assist me in "deciphering" some virtually unreadable inscriptions. (I have an aversion to the terms, legible and illegible when referring to tombstone inscriptions, hence I do not use these terms in this scrapbook.) I must assume the ultimate responsibility, of course, for the interpretation of such inscriptions and I do so gladly.



            I would like especially to acknowledge the following persons for their contributions towards the better completion of my Riverside tombstone inscriptions scrapbook. Others are mentioned at appropriate places elsewhere in the text.

            To Mr. Jack Darrel Wood, Tennessee Room librarian, Jackson/ Madison County Public Library, gratitude for his willing assistance in locating sources that clarify what many tombstones in Riverside "say," for his unfailing good-natured expertise and his own deeply-felt interest in the perpetual welfare of Riverside Cemetery. To my mother, Mrs. Dorothy M. Smith of Jackson, gratitude for her picture-taking, useful in my Riverside Cemetery project. Gratitude to others, including: Mrs. Helen Oxley Johnson of Jackson for her constant encouragement. To Mr. Paul Williams and his cheerful secretary, of the Jackson Parks and Recreation Division, and for his willingness to provide not only me but the Tennessee Room Collection, mentioned above, with the most up-to-date lot platting information for Riverside. To Mr. Charles H. Richards


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of Jackson, a foremost authority on the battle of Britton Lane, for his assistance in bettering my own understanding of the Civil War graves and 'stones in Riverside Cemetery. To the staff of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, I extend, once again in print, my gratitude for all their fine research assistance, especially Mrs. Marylin Bell Hughes, Ms. Genella Olker and Dr. Wayne Clark Moore. A similar acknowledgment is due the staff of the history/travel department of the main public library and information center of Memphis/Shelby County on Peabody Avenue in Memphis.

            To the secretaries of the various church offices in Jackson I have visited, in search for clarifying information, I am grateful for their patient help. To Mrs. Anne Robbins Phillips, curator of the Methodist archives at Lambuth College, Jackson, I extend an expression of gratitude for her constant and patient help for me among the Methodist archival materials.

            It was my privilege to peruse and take brief notes from the diaries of Mr. Robert Cartmell (1828-1915) of Madison County, these diaries being now housed in the manuscript collection of the Tennessee State Library and Archives (having been donated to the same by Cartmell's farseeing grandson, Mr. Robert Cartmell Townes of Jackson, in 1968). These diaries date from about 1849 until near the close of Cartmell's life, with a lapse between May 1867 to January 1879. These diaries are a rich primary source for historians studying Madison County for the period of time that Cartmell was confiding to his diaries. Mrs. Camille Anderson Townes, widow of Robert C. Townes of Jackson, was kind enough to extend permission for my use of a picture of her husband's maternal grandfather.

            Over the years, there have been numerous persons who have cherished Riverside Cemetery and what it represents in the heritage of Jackson, Tennessee and they helped to preserve it in their respective times. Several of the members of the Mid-West Genealogical Society, Jackson, worked hard to compile a complete (as much as was deemed possible of readable stones) listing of the burials in this cemetery and published the same as RIVERSIDE CEMETERY INSCRIPTIONS, 1830-1975, Jackson, Tennessee, 1975. My own "scrapbook" listings are selective for purposes I set for myself.

          It is my earnest hope that there will continue to be others in the future, like their predecessors, including the present generation, who will willingly "caretake" Riverside Cemetery and its unique treasures.

Jonathan K. T. Smith
Jackson, Madison Co. ,Tennessee
Spring of 1992


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