Nonprofit ‘adopts’ old City Cemetery in Murfreesboro

Michelle Willard, The Daily News Journal, March 17, 2017

This grave marker at the Old City Cemetery reads “Mary Butler wife of Daniel L. Reeves born August 25, 1836, died November 12, 1857. She died a beloved and devoted member of the Methodist East Church.”
(Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)

The history of Murfreesboro, Rutherford County, Tennessee and even the nation runs through Murfreesboro’s old City Cemetery and site of the First Presbyterian Church on Vine Street.

“The old City Cemetery is one of the oldest historic sites in Murfreesboro,” said Laura Bartel, president of the Rutherford County Archaeological Society and archaeology professor at Motlow Community College.

The site, which includes the first public cemetery in Murfreesboro, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

After she learned of the site’s historical significance, she developed an agreement with the city of Murfreesboro for the group to develop a plan to sustain and protect the site through restoring the cemetery and raising public awareness.

“We are pleased that the Rutherford County Archeological Society has taken up this admirable effort of conserving, restoring and interpreting the Old City Cemetery for public programs,” said Angela Jackson, director of the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department.

“The advocacy and expertise that they bring to the project will be a great benefit to the community, because the site has such important historical significance not only locally, but nationally.” Jackson said.

When Bartel heard about the history of the site — its ties to the Civil War, the First Presbyterian Church in Murfreesboro, and even Andrew Jackson — she knew RCAS needed to get involved.

“In all of the recent efforts to boost heritage tourism in the city, we have neglected this special place,” she said, “which links the stories of the city’s earliest residents, white and black, young and old, sons of the Revolution and sons of the Civil War,” Bartel said.

Bartel will present RCAS’s plans at “Bringing Back a Special Place: Our Project for the Conservation, Restoration, and Development of Public Programs for the Old City Cemetery of Murfreesboro,” at noon Saturday, March 25, in the Heritage Center, 225 W. College St., in Murfreesboro. The meeting is free and open to the public.

According to a presentation about the site by MTSU professor Dr. Kevin Smith in 2015, legends say the church was the birthplace of the Democratic Party, was used as a hospital and Union encampment during the Civil War, and that Union soldiers destroyed the original building and desecrated the cemetery.

Smith conducted an archaeological field school in June and July 2003 at old church site as part of the bicentennial of Rutherford County, which was

(Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)

founded in 1803.

The church was first built in 1820 and originally named the Murfree Spring Church. After it was razed during the Civil War, the church relocated to North Spring Street, where it remains today.

The most significant event in the church’s history happened in August 1822 when a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly was held.

At the special session, the state House of Representatives and state Senate nominated Andrew Jackson for the U.S. presidency. Smith said Sam Houston wrote Jackson from Murfreesboro, informing him of the news.

As Jackson’s most important endorsement for the presidency, this set the stage for Old Hickory to run for president in 1824, which he lost to John Quincy Adams.

Jackson was eventually elected in 1824 and his followers went on to found the Democratic Party.

“It’s a very special place that captures almost the entire history of the state of Tennessee as it relates to the people of Murfreesboro,” Smith said about.

Reach Michelle Willard at mwillard@dnj.com or 615-278-5164 and on Twitter @michwillard.

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