Before we get into the history let me introduce you to Mr. Jonathan K. T. Smith

Let me tell you about my friend Mr. Jonathan. He was an amazing researcher and teacher I was lucky enough to have benefited from his knowledge . We spent many hours in person to person visits and telephone conversations. He would give me bits and pieces about the various Cemeteries in the area.

After every visit I would receive a hand written note from him. They  are among my treasures.

Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith

Birthdate:        circa May 08, 1939

Birthplace:       Camden, Tennessee, United States 

Death:      November 14, 2014

He was a very skilled cemetery researcher. A series of books that he published about Riverside Cemetery in Jackson – titled My Riverside Cemetery Tombstone Inscriptions Scrapbook (1992) was followed by six more volumes. The final Volume VII was published in 1995. In 1998 he published a cumulative summary titled, Tombstone Inscriptions in Historic Riverside Cemetery in Jackson, Tennessee. He has published inscriptions for the Black Cemeteries in Madison, Crockett, Haywood, Henderson, Gibson, Chester, Carroll and Benton counties, as well as some antebellum tombstones in Carroll Co. He has done about 50-60 volumes on Madison County alone. include abstracts of 19th and early 20th century county records, such as wills, deeds and court minutes. One volume abstracts all of the death notices appearing in extant 19th century Jackson, Tennessee newspapers. There are seven volumes abstracting Henderson County records, which are very helpful because of that county’s loss of records. Mr. Smith has written extensively about his home county of Benton as well as Shelby County. In addition he has published about 35-40 books that are abstracts from Tennessee newspapers including the Nashville Christian Advocate.*

I was lucky enough to have been given several of his books by Mr Jonathan. He donated copies to individuals  he felt would benefit most from them.I was so honored

This being said this weekend I will write about the history of the Riverside Cemetery . I have spent hours wandering around this beautiful part of Jackson/ Madison Co. history.

Mr. Jonathan sat down one afternoon gave me the book to follow* and started telling me the story of the first cemetery in the small town called  Jackson.Here is part of that conversation and excerpts from Mr. Jonathan’s book because there was no way I was going to remember all he told me

*Tombstone Inscriptions in Historic Riverside Cemetery in Jackson Tennessee (Revised Edition)

by Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith

The first cemetery for the citizens of Jackson was located in a chestnut grove on a small rise of ground along and on the northeast side of what is now Johnson Street near its junction with Airways.  ( this would be where the Jackson Sun is located. Now I was also told this location was part of a Chickasaw trail.)

            This cemetery was soon abandoned and in time was largely forgotten. When some businessmen later established a brickyard at this location several skeletal remains were unearthed at which time inquiry was made of the older people in town about this burial ground. Mrs. Jesse (Nancy) Russell, one of the town’s earliest settlers was quoted in the Jackson WHIG and TRIBUNE in an article, “An Old Grave Yard” in its December 23, 1871 issue, “The graveyard mentioned was established about 1821, before the incorporation of the town of Jackson and some thirty or forty persons were buried there. When the town was incorporated many of the bodies were removed to the present /Riverside/ cemetery, yet several were left behind in their rude resting place with only rail pens to mark their graves.” Those remains not heretofore exhumed and reburied in Riverside were so moved and buried in the latter burial ground in the winter of 1871-1872.

A more suitable location was selected as the municipal burial ground for Jackson. Samuel Shannon donated an acre “to the town corporation for a graveyard,” located on the southwest edge of the town ( off what was later known as Bolivar Highway and later Riverside Dr.) . The earliest burials, from 1824 on, were sited in what is presently the southeast section of Riverside Cemetery. Likely the re-interments from the old Johnson Street graveyard were made in this section, including the remains of Colonel John H. Gibson, local hero of the War of 1812 and Mrs. Thomas Shannon whose remains were identified “by a peculiar comb in her hair.”If Colonel Samuel Taylor, the town’s first postmaster, who died November 6, 1825, was not buried initially in the new cemetery his remains too were removed later and interred in Riverside.

            Samuel Lancaster acquired about four acres of land adjoining the new cemetery to the west. He began to sell burial lots there and on October 26, 1850 he deeded to the town of Jackson certain parcels of his land designated as burial lots for his family and that of George Snider, providing as well for the registration of lots sold already to William H. Long, Amos W. Jones, Asbury Pegues, Sanders Brown and William W. Gates; these lots ran west to east along what is now street seven in the cemetery; he provided also a lot for the burial of his black servants. Over the next several years he sold numerous other lots, all of which had been properly laid out and numbered. The town therefore acquired by bits and pieces that part of Riverside formerly owned by Samuel Lancaster and his heirs.

            In October 1858 a committee appointed to examine the condition of the town cemetery reported that it was “grown up in high grass and weeds, so much so a lady could not well go thro’ the yard.” It recommended that the forest trees be removed within the cemetery and an effort be made to ornament the grounds. The town council had the grounds cleaned from time to time and anticipating the need for additional burial space decided to negotiate with James Caruthers for land on the north side of the cemetery; this, early in 1862. However, the Civil War temporarily suspended any planning for the cemetery.

            The city (now deserving of the title) dealt with Jo. H. Caruthers, his father’s administrator, for about a half acre of additional land for burial purposes. On December 16, 1866 the city council ordered the cemetery committee to have the old fence on the north side of the cemetery — about where the south side of street five runs today — removed and a new one erected to enclose any and all the grounds Jo. H. Caruthers (adm.) will permit to be used for burial or cemetery purposes.” For years this part of the cemetery was called the Caruthers Division. In 1867 a small house was built in the Caruthers Division for a sexton’s residence.

            Eugene Sullivan was employed briefly as sexton for the expanded cemetery but early in January 1868 the city hired James Hadaway as sexton who with his family occupied the sexton’s house. With the rapid growth of railroads, bringing in more people, the city soon needed more cemetery space. Thomas L. Robinson had bought a small acreage on the north side of the cemetery from the Stoddert family whereon he and his wife and children lived in a modest house. In agreement with the city council in June 1872 Robinson sold a portion of his land for an addition to the cemetery and the city sold lots in which people were buried even before the city had a very clear title to the land. By March 21, 1878, after a long litigation in chancery and a sustained fretful negotiation by the city with Robinson he agreed to sell them his entire tract if they assumed his debt to the Stodderts and settle him in a house on a nearby lot which was agreed upon.

            A new survey of the cemetery was completed by November 1878 and extensive planting of trees and other improvements were made there by the beginning of 1879.[14] For years this burial ground was simply called the “city cemetery” but in the spring of 1879 a contest was held for the official naming of the cemetery. Benjamin Davidson submitted the name RIVERSIDE, ostensibly because of the close proximity, to the south, of the south fork of the Forked Deer River. In the TRIBUTE and SUN, May 8, 1879 an editorial comment was made that this was “at once the most appropriate and beautiful” of the many names suggested for the cemetery. It has been known by this name ever since.

            With space at a premium, in the 1880s, the city assisted the black citizenry of Jackson to purchase land on what is now West Forest Avenue in Jackson for their cemetery called Mt. Olivet. Those blacks who owned lots in Riverside have continued to bury their dead there, including the family of the renowned Bishop Isaac Lane

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s