Old City Cemetery Section of Lexington Cemetery, October 2003
Looking Southeast from the West Section
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Lexington Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Henderson County and larger than combined total of the other seven or eight cemeteries serving Lexington, Tennessee. It probably dates to the 1820s, though the earliest death date on a replaced marker is 1837 and the earliest death dates on original markers are from the 1840s. However, the cemetery does not appear to be very old. There are no fieldstones in the oldest part of the cemetery now, and there should be because carved markers did not come into common use in the area until the 1870s.
The following is a history of the cemetery based on its observed appearance today. The original part of the cemetery was on the hillside behind the current block wall and cast iron fence. The cemetery overlooked Lexington and was reached from Madison Street. It originally may have been for whites only. The NC&StL railroad line (now removed) was built through the cemetery property in the 1880s. The west slope of the hill south of the railroad track was the black cemetery. The black cemetery does not appear to be older than the railroad but may also go back to the 1820s. The western slope of the black cemetery is full of burials, even though there are relatively few markers today.
Major "improvements" were made to the white cemetery about 1900. The wall was built, and much of the cemetery area was divided into family plots. Many fieldstones probably were removed about this time. The later family plots created about 1910-1920 almost certainly were reusing space. This is particularly noticeable with the Montgomery family plot that lies between a row with two original 1840s markers and Jones family markers from the 1840s and 1850s. The first Montgomery burial in the family plot was in 1929. The cemetery may have run out of space when the family plots were created, and the first northern extension on terraces was added. These terraces were divided into family lots which consumed space more than actual burials, so there was another expansion northward in the 1920s.
By the mid 1930s the cemetery was again out of space. The hillside north of the access road from Madison Street was cleared and terraced. Sometime after 1938, fieldstones not removed from old parts of the cemetery when family plots were created were removed to make mowing easier.
The largest addition was created in the late 1950s. This is the large flat area north of the original cemetery. A new access road was constructed from Natchez Trace Drive, and a brick gate was added in 1962 (it has since been replaced). The southern/black section seems to have been expanded eastward and terraced about this time.
There are three earlier records of this cemetery. The first was made for the Works Progress Administration by Dovie E. Little and is dated March 18, 1938. It appears in Tennessee Records of Henderson County, Bible Records and Tombstone Inscriptions (Nashville, Historical Records Survey, July 27, 1939). She did not record the black section. Her work is referred to as "WPA" in the notes. The second record was made Debra Hinson, Betsy Patterson, Alicia Adcox, Anita Webb, and Joan Nowell circa 1976. Their record appears in Henderson County, Tennessee Cemetery Inscriptions (Memphis, R. H. Harris, 1976), Vol. II, pp. 413-467. This earlier work is referred to as "Hinson et al." in the notes. Jonathan K. T. Smith recorded the southern/black section of the cemetery as part of a countywide survey of black cemeteries. His record appears in Tombstone Inscriptions from Black Cemeteries in Henderson County, Tennessee (1995). This is referred to as "Smith" in the notes.
Because of the size of the cemetery (but primarily for my own convenience) and so that someone will have a somewhat easier time finding a particular grave, the information is reported in six parts, corresponding to major divisions of the cemetery. By order of their creation they are:
- Old City Cemetery is the oldest white section and is the area behind the wall and cast iron fence. In the listings, all WPA listings not found at later dates are assumed to have been recorded in the Old City Cemetery. In Hinson et al., the Old City Cemetery is pp. 440-662.
- Southern/Black Section is the south end of the cemetery, separated at one time from the remainder by the NC&StL Railroad tracks. The southern section was omitted from the WPA record. In Hinson et al., the section begins in the second column on p. 462 and continues to the end of the listing on p. 467. James E. McDonald is buried in the southern section. The three individuals listed immediately prior to James E. McDonald, who seem to be represented by death dates read from temporary markers, are assumed to be buried in the southern section.
- East-Central Section is the area north of the walled city cemetery extending from the Madison Street access road to the eastern extension of the access road from Natchez Trace Drive. In Hinson et al., the East-Central Section is pp. 429-439.
- West Section is a mid-1930s westward expansion of the cemetery onto a terraced hillside, generally lying west of the main north-south access road, south of the entrance road from Natchez Trace Drive, and north of the old entrance road from Madison Street. This section mostly post-dates the WPA record and is pages 416-428 in Hinson et al.
- Northeast Section, a major northward expansion since the 1950s, lying east of the main north-south access road and north of the eastern continuation of the entrance road from Natchez Trace Drive. The section mostly post-dates Hinson et al.
- Southwest/Lewis Family Section is a small area opposite the walled cemetery, west of the north-south access road and south of the old entrance road from Madison Street. Everyone here seems to be related to the Lewis family.
David Donahue, June 2004
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