Two weeks ago, I shared my memories of Chicago’s suburban Roselle and Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, a visit from summer 2015.
Earlier that year, I visited Nashville, Tenn. It’s close to my heart because it was my home for almost the first two years of my marriage. My husband, Chris, was in law school at Vanderbilt University at the time but I hadn’t yet been bitten by the cemetery bug.
During this visit, I was catching up with high school friend Melissa, who was living in nearby Murfreesboro. I was itching to see some Nashville cemeteries and she was kind enough to oblige me.
On a rather dreary January day, we ventured to Calvary Cemetery and Mount Olivet Cemetery. They’re right next to each other so it’s difficult to know where one ends and one begins at times. Today, I’m focusing on Mount Olivet.
Mount Olivet is on the National Register of Historic Places, which is always a bonus because I can sometimes find information in the application made for that designation.
According to the application, Mount Olivet was established in 1855 and covers about 206 acres with around 192,000 graves (as of 2005). That includes a whopping 200,000 monuments, mausoleums and markers. It was modeled after Cambridge, Mass.’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. The design of the mausoleums ranges from Greco/Roman and Egyptian Revival to Victorian Gothic. At least 40 percent of the monuments at Mount Olivet are classic Victorian era funerary art.
The application contradicted itself in one respect. In one place, it says “Blacks could be buried anywhere in the cemetery up to circa 1889.” And yet in another, it says “After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the interment of persons of color was prohibited until the 1960s.” I’m not sure which statement is accurate.
Another part of the application states, “Some [blacks] were buried with the families they served, either as free persons of color or as slaves. Others were buried in the single and/or strangers sections located at the rear of the cemetery. There are other apparently ‘unused’ areas that may hold the remains of persons of color.”
If you were a wealthy resident of Nashville, Section One was where you were buried. Mount Oliver founders Van Sinderen Lindsley (1814-1885) and John Buddeke (1808-1887) are among them.
Unfortunately, Mount Olivet experienced a tragedy only a few days before my visit. It’s Gothic chapel/office nearly burned to the ground.
The original structure was built in 1872 by Hugh Cathcart Thompson, best known as the architect of Nashville’s famous Ryman Auditorium. Additions were made in 1890 and 1930. The building was unused since 1996 so it was in poor condition. It also had no electricity so the cause of fire was suspicious.
Historic Nashville Inc. put the Mt. Olivet Cemetery chapel/office on its inaugural list of the city’s most threatened historic places. The non-profit advocacy group launched the Nashville Nine list in 2009.
I tried to look online to see what had happened to the remains of the building since the fire but could find no updates.
One of the most beautiful monuments I’ve ever seen is at Mount Olivet. I didn’t know at the time that I’d see another version of it a year later in Denver, Colo. Andrew Marshall’s monument alone, which represents he, his wife and two daughters, makes a visit to this cemetery worthwhile. His own life was affected greatly by a fire as well.
A native of Connecticut, Andrew Marshall made a name for himself when he formed Marshall & Bruce Co. with J.H. Bruce. The company opened its doors on Oct. 25, 1865 as a book bindery with the “value of equipment not exceeding $300.” In 1869, they bought a small printing office. Over the next several decades, the company grew steadily.
However, in 1895 Marshall and Bruce faced an uncertain future when a fire destroyed everything. Within seven months, they rebuilt a four-story building on the same site.
In 1904, Marshall & Bruce Co. secured the printing contract for the Southern Baptist Convention (based in Nashville) and a year later, moved the business to a big new building on 4th Avenue North, adopting the slogan “We print anything.” For the next 35 years, the company’s business centered largely on supplying the Baptist Sunday School Board. When the Baptist contract was terminated in 1938, Marshall & Bruce suffered quite a setback.
Despite this loss and the onset of World War II, Marshall and Bruce survived. In 1952, P.M. French and Associates bought the company and later moved to its current location at 689 Davidson Street. Bob Smith, current owner of Marshall & Bruce, acquired the company from P.M. French and Associates in 1983.
Andrew Marshall died in 1912. His wife, Harriet, died in 1930. Daughter Mary Louise died in 1873, only two years old. Daughter Harriett died in 1896 at the age of 30 from kidney disease.
Nearby are the graves of the Grubbs sisters. It’s unusual for me to see a pair of actual children’s statues beside each other. One is considerably larger than the other.
A native of Alabama, Hartwell B. Grubbs married Elizabeth “Bettie” Cartwright in 1875. He wore a number of career hats in Nashville over the years, from working as a travel agent to helping start the Grubbs Cracker Company in 1885. He appears to have clashed with his brother-in-law during the business’ operation and I found some legal cases pertaining to this.
He and Elizabeth would have five children. Sons Thomas, Hartwell and Peter would all live well into adulthood. But daughters Myra Lou (born in 1883) and Bettie (born in 1887) would both die before reaching the age of three.
Unfortunately, Hartwell’s cracker company also endured a fire in 1890. He was working for a different company by 1900, and the Grubbs moved to St. Louis. By 1910, they had moved on to New York City where Hartwell and Bettie spent the rest of their lives. Bettie died in 1922 and is buried beside her daughters in Mount Olivet. Hartwell died in 1934 at the Hotel Carteret in New York City. His burial site is unknown.
The last family I’m featuring was not affected by fire (that I am aware of) but Robert William Jennings knew tragedy in his life. A native of South Carolina, he married Mary Wyche Evans in 1861 in Nashville. His background was in bookkeeping and he was quite good at it. At one time he operated a wholesale manufacturing company with Andrew J. Goodbar (also buried at Mount Olivet). He would eventually found Jennings Business College in Nashville in 1884.
Robert and Mary had six children between 1862 and 1871: Thomas, Robert, Mary, David, Louisa and Tyre. David died at the age of 27 but four of the children lived to adulthood.
On July 18, 1871, Mary gave birth to Tyre, who was named after one of Robert’s brothers who died in 1862 serving in the Confederacy during the Civil War. She died that day at the age of 28. Tyre died 11 days later on July 29, 1871.
Robert remarried the following year to Sarah Ellen “Nellie” Robertson. They had three children, two of whom lived to adulthood. Robert died in 1922 and is buried with both of his wives (Nellie died in 1925) at Mount Olivet.
I’ll be back next week to share more stories from Mount Olivet Cemetery.