Bringing Back a Special Place
The historic site now known as Murfreesboro’s “Old City Cemetery” is located on the 300 block of E. Vine street. It is the oldest historic site in Murfreesboro and encompasses the buried archaeological site of the original First Presbyterian Church (1820), its burying ground (1820), and the city’s first public cemetery, opened in 1837. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this special place represents the early days of “Murfreesborough” and Tennessee. The original First Presbyterian Church was the location of significant social and political events and Civil War activities. Founding families, soldiers, the enslaved, and other early residents of the city are buried here. What should be a jewel of the city—a visual representation of our history and shared cultural heritage—had all but been forgotten.
For numerous decades, the cemetery has been deteriorating and the gravestones and monuments in dire need of attention. Proper non-damaging cleaning of the stones is a must if they are to be preserved. There are gravestones that are cracked, off-set, and lying flat on the ground. Gravestones and large broken tombs lie about the property and many are buried below the surface. Back in 2008, the cemetery was named one of Tennessee’s most endangered historic places by the Tennessee Preservation Trust, which noted the graves and architectural elements were suffering from “neglect and improper care.” The historic significance of this special place is not being shared with the community, our school children, or heritage tourists.
Since March 2017, volunteers of the Rutherford County Archaeological Society and community volunteers, in an agreement with the City of Murfreesboro, Parks and Recreation Commission, have been working hard for the sustainable revitalization and public interpretation of the Old City Cemetery site. A 501 (c)(3) nonprofit educational and charitable association, RCAS welcomes the participation of organizations, groups, and individuals to help with this important project. On-site volunteer opportunities include cleaning gravestones, re-survey, historical research, documentation, and helping staff open days, guided tours, and special commemorative events. With the dedicated efforts of the members of the Rutherford County Archaeological Society, community volunteers, and support from the public, it is our goal that this earliest piece of Murfreesboro–a historic treasure in our midst–will become a place for which the city and its citizens can be proud.
You can help us bring back this special place! To volunteer, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 615-995-2979 .
Laura Bartel, M.A.
Founder/Executive Director, Rutherford County Archaeological Society
Director, Old City Cemetery Project
New– Geophysical Research!
I am happy to announce that geophysical research will begin this week, June 8, 2019 at the site of the Old First Presbyterian Church, its original burying ground, and the city’s original public cemetery, now collectively called “the Old City Cemetery.” The UT Knoxville funded research is being led by Co-Directors geophysicists Dr. Iftekhar Alam and Dr. Willian Doll of UT, Knoxville. A few students will also work on the project. Briefly, the research includes using three different geophysical instruments, a Geosensors electromagnetic instrument, a magnetometer, and ground penetrating radar to provide images of what lies underground. We know there are several buried gravestones, box tombs, unmarked graves, and empty shafts in the original burying ground and cemetery. This project will provide information as to their location and also some understanding of any previous pathways, buried family plot fence remnants, and other underground materials and features. Investigating the area of the Old Presbyterian Church will potentially reveal features that may help us understand more fully the past activity at the church, its burying ground, and the surrounding area. We are indeed fortunate to be having this research provided for us and it will be a tremendous aid for the conservation, preservation, and public interpretation of this historic site.
Laura Bartel, M.A.
Director, Murfreesboro’s Old City Cemetery Project