Historic Cemetery Preservation Success Stories

By Graham Perry
Willow Mount Cemetery

This summer, Historic Cemetery Preservation Specialist, Graham Perry, visited Willow Mount Cemetery, located in and cared for by the city of Shelbyville. Willow Mount stands out as an excellent model of historic cemetery care. Ben Chapman, the cemetery’s acting sexton, contacted Perry in July for advice on how to best protect the cemetery from damage during maintenance and from vandals and to discuss the development of reasonable rules for the cemetery.

During his visit, Perry found Willow Mount to be in excellent shape compared to most other municipal cemeteries throughout the state. Chapman’s dedication to historic preservation proved instrumental to that success. Even so, the cemetery is still plagued by similar problems faced by others throughout the state. Perry has worked diligently to find applicable solutions, searching for related precedents.

One troubling example at Willow Mount is that some citizens have buried their loved ones without consulting the cemetery. Such acts are highly likely to disturb existing unmarked graves. TCA 46-8, the Family Burial Grounds Protection Act, requires a boundary of protection of at least 10 feet around any existing grave, and 39-17-312 Corpses; abuse; purchase or sale of skeletal remains codifies that corpse abuse, which can easily result from non-compliance with 46-8, is a Class E Felony, a law that local law enforcement has a duty to uphold. Since compliance is mandatory, rules of these kind are a necessary tool for general protection of this and any other municipal cemetery.

THC strives to support both cemetery owners and family members who often face the difficult task of protecting historic cemeteries. For more information about the cemetery program, contact Graham Perry at graham.perry@tn.gov.

Cemeteries recently added to the Tennessee Historic Cemetery Register

Since the release of the Statewide Cemetery Map and the Tennessee Historic Cemetery Register in April 2023, the Tennessee Historical Commission has listed nine cemeteries to the Register. To date, the database providing location information for the map includes over 36,000 cemeteries, a notable increase over last quarter’s 33,000. New data is added to the cemetery map every day, thanks to the efforts of the public.

The new Tennessee Historic Cemetery Register listings are:

  • Spencer Hill Cemetery, Maury County. Listed on May 10, 2023
  • Laurel Dale Cemetery, Scott County. Listed May 30, 2023
  • Patterson Cemetery, County. Listed June 23, 2023.
  • Price - Essman Cemetery, Coffee County. Listed June 23, 2023.
  • Calhoun Community Cemetery, McMinn County. Listed July 19, 2023.
  • Mee Family Graveyard, County. Listed July 19, 2023.
  • James M. Hooper Cemetery, County. Listed July 24, 2023.
  • Huntsville Cemetery #2, Scott County. Listed August 23, 2023.


Graham Perry receives preservation award

Historic Cemetery Preservation Program Receives Award

On May 19-20, 2023, the Tennessee Historical Commission partnered with Jonathan Appell and the Zion Community Project for a successful cemetery cleaning and repair workshop at the Historic Zion Christian Cemetery in Memphis. The 15-acre cemetery was established in 1876 as an honorable and respectable burial site for the African American community. Zion Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 23, 1990.

Over the two-day workshop, several members of the community learned of the importance of cemetery preservation and proper cleaning techniques. Community members took what they learned from the workshop and have hosted their own cemetery clean ups since.

At their 14th Annual Fundraising Awards Dinner, the Zion Community Project Inc. presented the Ron Walter Zion Preservation Award to Perry for his efforts to preserve and educate. Named after historian Ron Walter, the award honors those who work to preserve the African American history of Memphis.