MEET LINDA MORA, THE “GRAVE WALKER,” AND TAKE A TOUR OF FRANKLIN’S OLDEST CEMETERIES

Folks affectionately call her the “Grave Walker,” but Franklin resident Linda Mora is a far cry from the ghoulish figure her nickname might conjure. She’s a true Southern lady who dresses impeccably and knows how to wear a strand of pearls. It’s truly a stretch to imagine this polished woman picking her way through the crumbling, forgotten graveyards that line our country’s backroads, and yet, Linda spends countless hours doing just that. “I need a sticker on my car that says, ‘I stop for cemeteries,’” she says with a laugh. “Thankfully, I have an understanding husband.”

Linda stands at the gates of the City Cemetery, Franklin’s oldest graveyard.

You might be wondering why Linda spends so much of her time with the dead. She is a certified volunteer for Find A Grave, an international index of burial records. Owned by Ancestry.com, this free, collaborative website features memorial pages that generally include birthdates, death dates, and burial information. The records also may have photos, biographies, family background, and other pertinent details. It’s a valuable tool for genealogists, historians, and those searching for the final resting places of loved ones.

Mariah Reddick’s Find A Grave memorial. Note the links to relatives’ pages, which create a virtual family tree.

Linda has contributed to the website since 2013, and to date, she’s documented and registered 23,241 graves around the United States. She’s also taken 554 volunteer photos (i.e., pictures she’s snapped for someone requesting to see a marker in this area) and added 59,660 other images! When asked how much time she invests in this endeavor, she says, “Every day. Even if I’m on vacation, I’ve got my computer, and I’m doing something with Find A Grave…If I’m working on a project, time can fly by when posting information.”

Using Find A Grave for Ancestry Record-Keeping

Her process is simple: First, she photographs the marker. “I can take over six-hundred pictures in an hour as long as the markers are clean, and I don’t have to stop to brush off debris.” After that, she notes any information engraved in the stone and creates a memorial for that person on Find A Grave. If new details emerge over time, she is able to update the page. Other users may post photos to the memorials she’s created, but they must send Linda a request before any information can be added or changed.

Linda encounters all sorts of unusual graves, like this one in the City Cemetery with a stone book atop the marker.

A FAMILY-TREE SEARCH BRANCHES OUT

Linda’s passion for documenting graves began with an interest in genealogy about 35 years ago. She first went onto Find A Grave to research her relatives and began posting about them. One thing led to another, and eventually, her focus shifted to graves beyond just those belonging to her family. “I would go out to where my parents were buried—a huge cemetery in Fort Worth—and I started taking pictures, first of military markers because my husband Dan is retired military of twenty-six years. That’s how I got started.”

Dan and Linda Mora

Preserving Headstone Information in the Digital World

But what kept Linda going was the possibility of losing these records forever. Headstones are at the mercy of the elements and suffer much damage from rain, fallen trees and limbs, even natural disasters. “Many cemeteries have been destroyed by floods in New Orleans, tornadoes in Texas, hurricanes in Florida, and volcanoes in Hawaii,” she says. “If [grave markers] aren’t photographed, they could be lost.”

Indeed, two of Franklin’s oldest cemeteries have been damaged by multiple floods over the years. During the 2010 flood, it was reported that both Rest Haven and the City Cemetery were under about three feet of water. 

1948 aerial shot of Franklin’s Rest Haven Cemetery and the City Cemetery bordered by flood waters from the nearby Harpeth River.

A HEART TO HELP THE BEREAVED

Linda’s passion for her work runs deeper than her interest in genealogy and desire to preserve history. She has a heart for those who have never seen the gravestone of a loved one. Perhaps the location of the burial site was forgotten over time. Maybe poor health or strained finances prevent relatives from traveling to a cemetery. Whatever the reason, the lack of a gravesite robs people of the final tangible link to their deceased family members and friends. 

By posting a photo of the headstone or providing its location for those able to make the trip, Linda is able to provide a measure of peace to these individuals. There have been numerous instances where her efforts have brought closure to folks across the country, but one story stands out in particular.

During a girls’ trip to Pickwick Landing State Park in Hardin County, Linda discovered a little cemetery down the road from their cabin. Armed with her camera, she walked to the graveyard and photographed about half of the markers. Upon her return home, she posted the pictures and information on Find A Grave.

“Several months later,” Linda says, “this lady contacts me. She said, ‘I cannot believe that you have found my grandmother’s baby sister’s grave.’” The stranger went on to explain how her grandmother’s family had been passing through Tennessee in a covered wagon when the child had died. They’d buried her in a tiny cemetery, and later, none of the relatives could remember the city where it’d occurred. All they had was the girl’s name. “It just so happens that I got a picture of that little marker. That was the best.”

White Sulphur Cemetery in Pickwick Landing State Park in Counce, TN. Photo courtesy of Don and Pam Childers, via Find A Grave.

PRESERVING HISTORY IN HER OWN BACKYARD

Though Linda documents graves all across the United States, much of her time is spent in Franklin where she lives with her husband. The couple used to reside in Virginia and often passed through Franklin to visit one of their daughters in Memphis. “We just loved the area, loved the history, and that’s why we settled here.”

And there’s no shortage of local work for Linda. To quote Virginia Bowman from her book Historic Williamson County: Old Homes and Sites, “Graveyards are found in every nook and cranny of Williamson County.” She’s not joking–there are an estimated 800 cemeteries in this area alone.

Cemeteries in Williamson County are far more common than one might think.

“People would bury on their own property,” Linda says, “many without markers.” Rural cemeteries are found just about anywhere around here—yards, fields, gardens, hilltops, and along creeks. Why, there’s even a cemetery in Cool Springs off Mallory Lane near the mall.

Mallory Cemetery is a pocket of history that survives among the modernity of Cool Springs. Photo courtesy of Find A Grave.

A HISTORIC PRESERVATION DREAM TEAM

Linda is currently partnering with Williamson County Historian Rick Warwick (read more about him here) to document some of Franklin’s earliest residents. Rick has tirelessly collected photographs of these individuals on the Williamson County Historical Society’s Flickr account, and Linda is using those pictures to create memorials on Find A Grave.

Williamson County Historian Rick Warwick in the City Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

A LIST OF WORTHY UNDERTAKINGS

In addition to her project with Rick, Linda has undertaken the monumental task of scanning the thousands of obituaries on file at the Williamson County Archives and posting them on Find A Grave. She also does extensive work in local cemeteries, photographing markers and setting up memorials.

Currently, Linda is working on a burial index for the cemetery of Green Grove Primitive Baptist Church in Triune, Tennessee. 

Linda thumbs through the obituary index at the Williamson County Archives.

In 2021, Linda led an educational tour for the Brentwood Franklin Woman’s Service Club through Franklin’s historic graveyards. With that same group of ladies, she helped organize the Living History Walk at the John P. Holt Brentwood Library. The highly attended event featured reenactors portraying historical figures important to Williamson County’s past.

Living History Walk, Brentwood Public Library

The figures represented at the 2022 Living History Walk above included Freeman Thomas, Granny White, Mariah Reddick, and Colonel Edward Bloodgood.

A STEP BACK IN TIME

Cemeteries are so much more than just a collection of names carved into stones. They are historic archives, cultural landmarks, and open-air museums. Each headstone represents an entire life, a personal story that’s important to our collective past. These oft-overlooked places can teach us a great deal if we’re willing to listen.

Let’s follow Linda’s lead and spend some time in five of Franklin’s graveyards: the City Cemetery, Rest Haven, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Mount Hope, and the McGavock Confederate Cemetery. As we dive a bit deeper into the history of these hallowed grounds and the diverse group of people buried here, you’ll see how these places of death actually bring to life the tale of our great town.

FRANKLIN’S CITY CEMETERY

Entrance to the City Cemetery, Franklin TN

Two stone pillars stand like sentries at the entrance of Franklin’s City Cemetery, along with a pair of memorial gates. This cemetery is located just north of downtown Franklin, and tucked into a bend next to the Harpeth River.

A plaque embedded in the stone informs visitors these gates were erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution—specifically, the Old Glory chapter, to which Linda now belongs—in 1916 to “honor the pioneer men and women buried here.” Indeed, a walk among these old tombstones reveals the names of Franklin’s founders and earliest citizens.

DAR plaque on the stone pillar at the cemetery entrance

Franklin was only 12 years old in 1811 when Joel Parrish sold two acres of land on the outskirts of town to the city for $100 for use as a cemetery. Franklin was still in its infancy, but its population was growing and needed a dedicated place for the dead.

You can see the historic 1813 marker for the City Cemetery at the entrance off Fourth Avenue North in downtown Franklin.

Historic marker for the City Cemetery

So many of Franklin’s early settlers and pioneers can be found in this historic cemetery.

This field works map of Franklin shows the City Cemetery in 1864.

Aerial shot of the City Cemetery

The front section of the graveyard is considered to be the oldest with many of its headstones cracked and crumbling.

The front third of the City Cemetery

The middle portion includes enclosed family plots, a majestic pecan tree, and a cluster of graves belonging to Irish-Catholic immigrants.

The middle part of the City Cemetery, sheltered by a pecan tree at its center.

In this section, you’ll find an unusual headstone shaped like a tree trunk. Like many grave markers, the design itself holds meaning: The cut tree represents the brevity of life.

The rear area is what’s traditionally called a pauper cemetery or potter’s field. African Americans and poor whites are buried here, and it contains few marked graves. However, depressions in the earth, as well as a ground-penetrating radar study done by the city, indicate this section is fully occupied.

The rear portion of the City Cemetery

In 1815, the cemetery became the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church, which was built northwest of the graveyard (on Fourth Avenue North, formerly Indigo Street). The congregation had been organized in 1811 by Gideon Blackburn, a preacher and missionary to the Cherokee. He also served as headmaster of Harpeth Academy, the first institution of higher learning in Franklin.

Reverend Gideon Blackburn. Image courtesy of Rick Warwick.

In 1842, the growing congregation of the First Presbyterian Church moved to a new building on the corner of Main Street and Fifth Avenue (the church’s present site). 

First Presbyterian Church’s second building, located at Five Points, in 1842. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

The church (pictured above) was replaced in 1888, but that sanctuary caught fire in 1905, severely damaging the building. It was restored a few years later with only a slight change in the roofline. This is the version that remains today. Read more on the church’s history here.

The church as it appears today, now called the Historic Franklin Presbyterian Church, gets a lot of foot traffic since it’s located in the busy Five Points District of Main Street and Fifth Avenue.

WHO’S BURIED HERE?

The names on the tombstones in the City Cemetery cover a wide range of demographics: Franklin’s pioneer stock, enslaved people, Revolutionary and Civil War veterans, prosperous citizens, and the destitute. Let’s meet a few of the cemetery’s most notable residents.

FRANKLIN’S FIRST HOMEBUILDER – EWEN CAMERON

Just beyond the shade of the pecan tree sits a tall, skinny marker that bears the name “Ewen Cameron.” The bottom of the headstone reads, “This man in 1798 built the first house in Franklin.”

Ewen Cameron’s headstone

Ewen emigrated from Scotland to Virginia in 1785 and moved to Tennessee around 1798. He was headed for the safety of Fort Nashborough (which sheltered early settlers from Indian attacks and wild animals) when his covered wagon broke down in the area that would soon become Franklin. 

Charmed by the lush landscape and plentiful springs, he built a two-story, log cabin where the Second Avenue parking garage now stands (Second Avenue used to be named “Cameron Street” in his honor). He served as Franklin’s city recorder for many years. Ewen died on February 28, 1846 after living almost 50 years in the same home. His second wife, Mary, is also buried in the City Cemetery.

Mary Cameron’s headstone alongside her husband Ewen’s

When the Cameron home was torn down, wooden pegs from a ship were discovered to be holding the structure together. No one knows where Ewen got these pegs and why he had them in his wagon.

You can see his historic marker at the corner of East Main Street and Second Avenue where the Cameron house once stood between the city parking garage and Pull-Tight Players located at 112 2nd Avenue South.

THE ILLUSTRIOUS CARTER FAMILY

The graves of Fountain Branch Carter and Mary Armistead Atkinson Carter also can be found in the City Cemetery.

Fountain Branch and Mary Carter

Fountain Branch Carter was a shoemaker and farmer who built an impressive cotton gin to the east of his house on Columbia Avenue. 

Amazingly, the Carters’ cotton gin survived the Battle of Franklin, although, as seen here, its lower half was riddled with bullet holes. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

The family’s home, constructed in 1830, was in the epicenter of the bloody Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. The Carter House is now a Civil War museum.

The Carter House is show above, past and present. Black-and-white photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

THE COST OF FREEDOM

The largest headstone in the City Cemetery’s rear section belongs to Anarchy Cowles, whose husband, Jesse, purchased her freedom from slavery, as well as his own and their children’s. He bought their freedom with money earned from a business he operated while enslaved. He is buried next to Anarchy.

Anarchy Cowles’s headstone

CITY CEMETERY GAINS RECOGNITION

Inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places is difficult for graveyards to attain—it requires a detailed history of why the site is unique—but the City Cemetery was added to the registry in 2012. A city-commissioned report from 2014 described the property’s condition as “desperate,” but local Rotarians have since joined forces with the city to perform several cleanups.

REST HAVEN CEMETERY

The entrance to Rest Haven Cemetery is directly across from the City Cemetery on Fourth Avenue South.

Historic marker for Rest Haven Cemetery

Burials continued sporadically in the City Cemetery until 1936, but with space growing increasingly cramped, John Marshall, an esteemed lawyer and judge, gave the city seven additional acres across the street to the west in 1855.

John Marshall. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

The property was first referred to as the “New Cemetery” and was later named “Rest Haven Cemetery.” Unlike the City Cemetery, Rest Haven was reserved for whites only.

This 1878 D.G. Beers map shows the “New Cemetery” (aka Rest Haven) across the street from the City Cemetery.

These incredible aerial views of Rest Haven are from Trenton Wallace Photography, the official photographer for Lovely Franklin. Note the City Cemetery across the street in the second photo.

Rest Haven holds the bodies of many individuals who lived through the Civil War. Numerous Confederate soldiers are buried here, as well as a few Union soldiers. Visitors will also see the gravestones of several community leaders, including former Franklin Mayor John B. McEwen.

It’s hard to miss John B. McEwen’s soaring grave marker in Rest Haven.

Here’s a close-up of Mayor John B. McEwen’s headstone at Rest Haven.

John B. McEwen was mayor of Franklin during the Civil War. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick. You can enjoy this exclusive Lovely Franklin story about his life here.

A CONFEDERATE DOCTOR WHO SWITCHED SIDES

Dr. Daniel B. Cliffe’s headstone

Dr. Daniel B. Cliffe is another prominent Franklinite buried in Rest Haven. He was a respected physician and Confederate surgeon who eventually came to sympathize with the Union. Dr. Cliffe was also president of the Nashville and Decatur Railroad.

Dr. Daniel B. Cliffe. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Dr. Cliffe worked with his uncle, Dr. Daniel McPhail (who’s buried in the City Cemetery), in the tiny, brick building on East Main Street next to First Horizon Bank. 

Dr. Daniel McPhail’s headstone is found in the City Cemetery. He was the first doctor in Tennessee to successfully anesthesia to a patient.

The McPhail-Cliffe Office, commonly called the “Early’s Honey Stand building” in reference to its former occupant, is now used by the Downtown Franklin Association.

The historic McPhail-Cliffe Office served as a Union headquarters prior to the Battle of Franklin.

The McPhail-Cliffe Office today is now on East Main Street. It was relocated and restored by the Heritage Foundation’s Rudy Jordan.

FALLEN CLOSE TO HOME

Rest Haven is also the final resting place of Captain Tod Carter, son of Fountain and Mary Carter. After being gone for more than three years fighting for the South, Tod had almost made it home: On November 28, 1864, the 24-year-old had received written permission to go ahead of his regiment encamped in Spring Hill and return to Franklin. 

He made his way back on horseback, and it’s believed he spent the night of November 29 in the home of his friend, Green Neely, whose home was located on Columbia Avenue where Chick-fil-A now stands. 

Green Neely’s house on Columbia Avenue. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

In the middle of the night, the Federals somehow slipped right past the house where Tod slept and took possession of the Carter House, Tod’s childhood home, down the road. It became a Union headquarters. 

According to a later report, Tod rode to his house the next morning, but a relative stopped him at the gate and turned him away, saying the Union soldiers were inside. However, this story is suspect because it’s highly unlikely Tod would have made it past all the troops that surrounded the Carter property.

Captain Tod Carter died of his wounds on December 2, 1864. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Whatever the case, he rejoined his regiment at Winstead Hill on November 30, the day of the Battle of Franklin. He led a desperate charge toward his family’s farm, and the next morning, Tod was found badly wounded about 500 yards from his house. His horse, Rosencrantz, lay dead a few feet away from him. Tod died 48 hours later in the parlor across the hall from the room where he was born.

You can see Captain Theodrick “Tod” Carter’s headstone at Rest Haven Cemetery in Franklin.

THE GRAVE OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

Another point of interest in Rest Haven is the grave of Franklin’s “Unknown Civil War Soldier,” located in the center of the cemetery. His remains, buttons, and a bullet were discovered during the construction of the Chick-fil-A on Columbia Avenue in 2009. (Yes, it’s the same Chick-fil-A mentioned earlier that sits on the former site of Green Neely’s house.) 

Historic marker for the Unknown Civil War Soldier

A 19th-century-style funeral was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and a procession to the graveyard followed. Nearly 7,000 people turned out to pay their respects. 

Monument honoring Franklin’s Unknown Civil War Soldier

The columns that make up the monument were originally part of Tennessee’s State Capitol. They were removed from the building in 1953 during restoration work and stored behind the shuttered Tennessee State Prison in Nashville. Robin Hood, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and resident of Franklin, designed the monument.

Notice the coins piled on the Unknown Soldier’s gravestone, pictured above. According to Linda, each denomination has a special significance: Traditionally, a penny means “visited but not forgotten.” If someone leaves a nickel, it means that person trained in boot camp with the deceased. A dime means they served together, and a quarter means that individual was with the soldier when he or she died. Clearly, the people who left these coins were simply paying their respects rather than signifying any real-life connection with the soldier.

Reverse side of the historic marker for the Unknown Civil War Soldier

Burials in Rest Haven largely ended in the late 1960s. The cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE CEMETERY

Entrance to Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery in Franklin, TN

Situated on the busy corner of Del Rio Pike and Hillsboro Road, Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery exists quietly among the bustle of modern-day development. Every day, scores of people drive by this hill sprinkled with graves, and many have no idea they’re passing an integral piece of Franklin’s history.

On January 1, 1884, only 19 years after the Civil War, 44 black men purchased these four acres at a cost of $400 for use as a burial ground for “persons of African descent.” Unmarked graves had been the norm for enslaved people for more than 300 years, so this was a significant step for the black community in reclaiming their humanity.

Toussaint L’Ouverture as seen from Hillsboro Road

Not only that, they desperately needed more burial space. Even after gaining freedom, black Franklinites had scant options for final resting places: church cemeteries, private plots, or the rear section of the City Cemetery where there’s an estimated 300 unmarked African American graves. 

As the City Cemetery grew increasingly crowded, the four acres on Hillsboro Road was bought as an answer to their space problem. The group of owners formed a corporation, complete with a board of trustees, to maintain the grounds.

The red dot on the image above indicates the location of Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery on this 1927 map of Franklin. Image courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Francois-Dominique Toussaint meets General Thomas Maitland in Saint-Domingue, 1790s.

One can imagine the careful consideration put into the naming of such a sacred spot. Their selection needed to convey the significance of this moment in their shared history, as well as reflect their strength and dignity as a people. The owners decided on “Toussaint L’Ouverture” in honor of Francois-Dominique Toussaint, a freed person who led the Haitian Revolution.

Historic marker for Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery

The revolution was a 13-year struggle that ended with Haiti gaining its independence in 1804. It was the only successful slave revolt in modern history. Toussaint earned the nickname “L’Ouverture”—French for “opening”—from his ability to find ways across enemy lines.

DEEP ROOTS OF TRADITION

Today, yucca plants—a spiny plant believed by Haitians to keep restless spirits in their graves—dot the grounds. It’s a fitting tribute to the cemetery’s Haitian namesake, but Toussaint probably isn’t the reason they were first planted. These cactus-like plants, which can survive for hundreds of years, are commonly found in older, African American cemeteries where they were often used as grave markers due to the high cost of headstones.

Yucca plants in Toussaint L’Ouverture

Another interesting trait of the cemetery is the east-west orientation of all the gravestones, which is also common in African American graveyards.

East-west-oriented graves in Toussaint L’Ouverture

It’s said burials are done with the head toward to the west so loved ones don’t have to turn around when Gabriel blows his trumpet in the eastern sunrise. Other traditions hold that they were buried facing Africa.

A PERIOD OF NEGLECT

The cemetery corporation formed by the owners failed during the Great Depression, and no entity was named successor. After the founders died, ownership of the cemetery became unclear, which meant no one was legally responsible for the property’s upkeep. As the years passed, weeds choked out the graves, and trash piled up. Burials continued on the property, (in fact, it remains the oldest site in continuous use by Franklin’s black community), but no register was kept. Tombstones and rocks were placed at some graves while others weren’t marked.

Rocks as markers in Toussaint L’Ouverture

The property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, but the cemetery languished for years with only sporadic maintenance from locals. Eventually, the Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery Club was formed, and thanks to their efforts, along with other church and community volunteers, the graveyard received a much-needed facelift. Garbage was hauled away, the grass was mowed, brush was cleared out, and headstones were cleaned. The club continues to care for the cemetery today.

While clean-up efforts were underway, Linda was hard at work documenting the graves, the earliest of which dates back to 1869, 15 years before Toussaint L’Ouverture was even incorporated. Her goal was to create a complete record of the cemetery. 

After photographing each headstone, Linda tracked down death records, obituaries, and photos to accompany each memorial. A big help in her search was a collection of African American funeral programs put together by Thelma Battle, a local historian who specializes in Franklin’s black history.

Thelma Battle (above) has made it her mission to preserve Franklin’s African American heritage.

In 2019, Linda compiled her findings into a burial registry and gave copies to the Williamson County Historical Society, Williamson County Library’s Special Collections, the Williamson County Archives, and the McLemore House Museum. She also added the information to FindAGrave.com.

Linda is shown presenting the Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery registry to Marcia Fraser, director of the Williamson County Library’s Special Collections. The cemetery registry includes veterans from both World Wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as many historical figures who lived in Franklin.

A FRANKLIN LEGEND

Mariah Reddick’s headstone

Those familiar with the history of Carnton Plantation will recognize the name “Maria Reddick” engraved on one of the gravestones. (Her first name is spelled incorrectly on the marker– it was actually “Mariah.”)

This image of Mariah is from Rick Warwick’s Williamson County: The Civil War As Seen Through the Female Experience.

At the tender age of ten, Mariah was given as a wedding gift to Carrie Winder who married John McGavock, owner of Carnton. Mariah cared for four generations of the McGavock family.

Mariah Reddick (above) holds Carrie McGavock’s granddaughter, Carrie Winder Cowan. The photo is dated January 6, 1885. Courtesy of Rick Warwick.

During the Civil War, Mariah was sent to Alabama to serve Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Howell. Once Mariah was freed, she continued to work for the McGavocks and became the favored midwife of Franklin’s society women. Mariah apparently admired Toussaint as it’s reported she purchased a portrait of him and hung it on the wall of her home.

John Watt Reddick. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Her son, John Watt Reddick, became a prominent leader in the black community. He was a marksman in the U.S. Army and served in the Spanish-American War. John also worked as a mail clerk with distinctions for the L&N Railroad.

A historic marker sits by Reddick Street, named in John’s honor.

A MAN UNAFRAID TO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO

Another notable person in the cemetery is Robert Henry Rucker, Sr, the only black developer in Franklin during the mid-1900s. 

Robert Rucker’s grave marker on the left 

Many of the homes he built still stand on Fair Street and in the Hard Bargain neighborhood of Franklin. His houses are recognizable by his trademark style of multicolored bricks and arches over entrances.

The homes along Rucker Avenue

In March 1948, he and his wife, Florence, purchased 16 acres of land on the corner of West Main Street and Downs Boulevard for development. Though many of the original homes have since been torn down and replaced, that area is still referred to as Rucker subdivision. Robert instated a strict set of bylaws for the neighborhood, one of which stated that for 25 years, only people of African descent could own or occupy the homes.

This historic marker was erected along Rucker Street, commemorating the spot where Robert Rucker’s house once stood.

Near the subdivision, Robert helped establish Rucker Park in 1954, which was the only community recreational area available to black Franklinites until Jim Warren Park was integrated in the early 1970s. The facility included an athletic field, concession stand, community center, picnic tables, and swings.

The Factory, once a manufacturing hub, now offers shopping, dining, and venue space.

Robert was also instrumental in the construction of the Allen Manufacturing Plant (today known as The Factory) and the historic Five Points building at the corner of Main Street and Fifth Avenue where Starbucks is now located.

Here is the Five Points building when Corner Drugs occupied this space. Today, Starbucks calls this corner home. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

FROM ENSLAVED PERSON TO BUSINESS OWNER

Visitors to Toussaint L’Ouverture can also see the grave of Allen Nevils Crutcher “A.N.C.” Williams, a formerly enslaved person who came to be one of Franklin’s most prominent black entrepreneurs. 

The headstone of Allen Nevils Crutcher “A.N.C.” Williams at the Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery

After his emancipation in 1863, A.N.C. opened the first African American-owned business in downtown Franklin. It was a shoe-repair operation on the square where he fixed the boots of the occupying Union soldiers. 

A.N.C. Williams on the right. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

After the war, he established a general store on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues (where Avec Moi is now located). The business remained in operation for 64 years and served both black and white customers, an anomaly in those hateful days of segregation. When A.N.C.’s health declined, he retired as the oldest, continually operating merchant on Main Street.  A.N.C. Williams is pictured in front of his store with his sons, Fred. D. Williams and Ostranda Williams, in 1919 above.

Cummins Street Church of Christ

A.N.C. also donated land for the Cummins Street Christian Church (now called Cummins Street Church of Christ) and served as minister there. 

A historic marker beside the Cummins Street Church of Christ honors A.N.C. Williams.

When A.N.C. died, his obituary was printed on the front page of the Franklin Review-Appeal. In the segregated South, this was a rare tribute and a reflection of A.N.C.’s reputation in the community.

MOUNT HOPE CEMETERY

Mount Hope Cemetery in Franklin is off Hillsboro Road between Mt. Hope and Del Rio Pike, adjacent to the Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery.

Entrance to Mount Hope Cemetery

Separated from Toussaint L’Ouverture by a thin line of pine trees is Mount Hope Cemetery, established in 1875 for whites only. The graveyard holds numerous old tombstones, including those of more than 100 Civil War soldiers.

A row of white pines separates Toussaint L’Ouverture from Mount Hope. Photo taken from the Toussaint L’Ouverture side.

The red dot in the image above indicates the location of Mount Hope on this 1927 map of Franklin. Image courtesy of Rick Warwick.

The land on which Mount Hope sits wasn’t always a quiet burial ground—it was once full of life as the site of a school for boys.

Historic marker for Harpeth Academy’s first location on Del Rio Pike

In 1856, P.G.S. Perkins sold six-and-a-half acres near Del Rio Pike to Harpeth Academy. This spot, called “Hardbargain Hill,” was the school’s third location, the first being farther down Del Rio Pike and the second a two-acre lot on West Main Street (where the Turley-Faw House and Dozier House now stand). 

After the schoolhouse on Hardbargain Hill was destroyed by Federal troops for use in Fort Granger, the land became Mount Hope Cemetery. Burials continue in this graveyard today.

Views from the oldest section of Mount Hope

Where is Minnie Pearl Buried?

Linda has spent much time in Mount Hope, and while she’s there, she’s often asked the same question: Where is Minnie Pearl buried?

Minnie Pearl, aka Sarah Cannon. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

It’s little wonder why folks can’t seem to find it. The headstone bears her given name, Sarah Colley Cannon, and the simple marker is hardly the monument expected of someone as famous as Minnie Pearl. But as Linda so aptly points out, the humble gravestone is a perfect reflection of Sarah’s personality.

Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon’s grave marker at the Cannon family plot

In case you’re curious about why Minnie Pearl was buried in Franklin, her grandparents owned Oaklawn, a stately home on West Main Street, and she was laid to rest in the family plot in Mount Hope. Read more about Sarah Cannon and her family here.

THE MOUNT HOPE CEMETERY PROJECT

Linda at work on the Mount Hope Cemetery project

Linda has invested untold hours documenting Mount Hope’s graves. She collaborated with the Williamson County Library’s Special Collections Department to create a more complete record of the cemetery. The project took several months to finish.

These statues are some of Linda’s favorites at Mount Hope. They were taken from an old home and represent the four seasons.

THE MCGAVOCK CONFEDERATE CEMETERY

Entrance to the McGavock Confederate Cemetery

We end our tour at the McGavock Confederate Cemetery, which sits on the grounds of Carnton Plantation. This graveyard is the smallest of the five we’ve visited, but its story is perhaps the most well-known, thanks to Robert Hicks’s New York Times-bestselling novel The Widow of the South

After the grisly Battle of Franklin in 1864, many of the fallen soldiers were buried in shallow graves on the battlefield. Wooden markers were placed as headstones, but they began to disappear during the winter months as the poor used them for firewood. The remaining markers quickly deteriorated, and to add to the issue, the property owners needed to cultivate their land.

John and Carrie McGavock, owners of Carnton Plantation. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Seeing the need, John and Carrie McGavock, owners of Carnton, donated two acres for use as a Confederate cemetery. (The bodies of the Union soldiers had already been moved to the national cemetery in Murfreesboro.) They raised money to have the 1,481 bodies exhumed and reinterred at Carnton next to the McGavock family cemetery in April 1866. It’s the largest, private military cemetery in the United States in terms of burials.

This 1878 plat of McGavock Confederate Cemetery shows the division of the graves by state. Image courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Historic marker for the McGavock Confederate Cemetery

Each grave received a fresh, cedar marker as seen in the photo below. In 1890, these markers were replaced with stone ones.

These are the newly reinterred graves at the McGavock Confederate Cemetery in 1866. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

The McGavock Confederate Cemetery today

Carrie meticulously recorded each headstone inscription in her Cemetery Record Book, which she carried with her on daily visits to the graveyard. (This journal can be seen in the museum in Carnton’s visitor center.) She met regularly with families of the deceased, as well as veterans who returned to pay their respects.

Another view of the McGavock Confederate Cemetery with Carnton in the background

CONTINUING CARRIE’S LEGACY

In many ways, Linda is a modern-day Carrie McGavock, continuing her cause of preserving the memory of those who came before us and reuniting the living with the dead. “I have received many emails or messages, saying thanks for taking the time to post information or pictures,” Linda says. “This is what makes this hobby so worthwhile.” 

Linda with actress Suzanne Burns, who is dressed as Carrie McGavock for the Living History Walk

With each headstone, there is a life to be remembered and a family who may be searching for answers. Thanks to Linda, so many of these stories have been saved from the ravages of time. The next occasion you visit a cemetery, take a cue from our resident grave walker and listen to the tales whispered by the tombstones. You might be surprised at what you hear.

Linda Mora, City Cemetery in Franklin, TN

For more information about Linda’s projects or if you have additional details on a decedent listed in one of the cemetery registries, please contact her at LindaMora@bellsouth.net.

Thank you to Trenton Lee Photography for the hauntingly beautiful cemetery photos and aerial shots. We also greatly appreciate Rick Warwick for allowing us access to the historic pictures of Franklin.

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