We’re back at Oconee Hill Cemetery. This week, I’m looking at the history of some prominent Athenians whose family homes/buildings are still being used today in the Classic City.
As we moved toward the back of the cemetery, I discovered a large mausoleum that looked to predate the official opening date of 1855.
The son of War of 1812 veteran Col. Archibald Russell Spence Hunter and Elizabeth Wyche Lucas Hunter, Nathan Wyche Hunter was born on August 23, 1811 in Hancock County, Ga. He entered West Point in 1829 and according to his diary, he “never hated a place so bad in my life.” Accustomed to the comforts of his wealthy family’s home, West Point’s rough conditions were a rude awakening. But he soon acclimated to his rustic surroundings.
Noble Hearted Hunter
Although Hunter barely passed as the “goat” of his class in 1833 by scoring the lowest on the final exam, “Noble Hearted Hunter” (as he was called by classmate Francis H. Smith) was so warmly regarded by his fellow students that he was asked to give the valedictory address. The gesture moved him to write, “I had much rather have this expression of their confidence in my ability to perform such a task than to be head of the class.”
Hunter went on to serve in the U.S. Army during the Florida Wars and the Mexican War in Company H of the 2nd Regular U.S. Dragoons. Participating in the battles of Palo Atlo and Resaca de la Palma, he rose to the rank of Captain. He was in his 30s when he married Sarah Golding Hunter in Athens on August 18, 1846.
By that time, his service in Mexico had begun to take its toll. He returned to Athens on sick leave in 1848. His obituary describes it as “neuralgia” and that he became an invalid. Capt. Hunter died on April 24, 1849 in Charleston, S.C. at the age of 37.
I’m not sure what the bugle crossed with a flag-draped spear below a five-pointed star means. It’s possible that it has a connection to the Second Dragoons. If anyone reading this happens to know, please contact me.
Sarah Hunter died in 1865. A note on on Capt. Hunter’s Find a Grave memorial indicates that while there are six spaces inside the mausoleum, it is only occupied by Sarah and Nathan. They had no children together.
Not far away was a child’s grave that got my attention. More often they feature lambs but this one for Sarah Holliday was of an angel.
Sarah Holliday was the daughter of Athens physician Dr. Allen Cheatham “A.C.” Holliday and Cora McElhannon Holliday. Dr. Holliday was well known in Athens and appeared frequently in newspaper articles. Their home, the Holliday-Dorminey House, was built in 1901 and still stands today at 357 Hill Street.
Sarah was born on Dec. 23, 1907 and lived in the home pictured above. Sadly, for reasons unknown, she died at the age of 18 months on April 12, 1909. Her funeral was written up in the Weekly Banner newspaper.
The Hollidays had another child, whose name is unknown, that died in 1912 and is buried beside Sarah. Dr. Holliday died in 1939 and Cora died in 1956, both are buried with Sarah and the unnamed infant.
There’s another mausoleum at Oconee Hill that caught my attention. The name on it is for Sarah Jane (Billups) Taylor, wife of Richard Deloney Bolling (D.B.) Taylor. She was only 27 when she died.
Born in 1830, Richard D.B. Taylor was the son of Robert Walter Taylor and Elizabeth Bolling Deloney Taylor. Robert was a a wealthy cotton merchant and planter. Around 1844, he built a Greek Revival mansion as a summer home in Athens. When his three sons (including Richard) entered the University of Georgia, the Taylors became permanent residents of Athens.
That home, now known as the Taylor-Grady House at 634 Prince Avenue, still stands today and it was a familiar landmark to me during my college days. Owned by the City of Athens and managed by the Junior League, many grand events are held there.
Richard married Sarah Billups in 1852 and Robert gave the happy couple the house as a wedding gift. They welcomed a daughter, Susan, in 1855. Sadly, Sarah died on April 6, 1860 in Athens. The article detailing her death mentions her “last illness” indicating she had been ill often in recent months.
Richard and little Susan did not remain at the house long and they had moved out by the time he remarried in January 1863 to Catherine McKinley of Milledgeville, Ga. They had a daughter, Kate, on June 5, 1864. Richard died on July 14, 1864. His name is not inscribed on the mausoleum but because he is not buried with his second wife, I believe him to be interred in the Taylor mausoleum with Sarah. Catherine died in 1873 and is buried in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville.
“The Grief is Fixed Too Deeply”
The Taylor’s home was sold in 1863 to Major William Sammons Grady, who was away fighting in the Civil War at the time. He died in 1864 from wounds sustained in battle and is buried at Oconee Hill. His family did not move into the home until 1866.
Major Grady’s son, Henry W. Grady, then a student at the University, eventually became managing editor of the Atlanta Constitution and was known as an impressive orator, giving his famous “New South” speech in 1886 emphasizing the end of slavery and the need for reconciliation. As a University of Georgia student, I attended and graduated from the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism in 1990.
Susan Taylor married Frederick Lucas in 1876. Their first two children, John (1877-1878) and Richard (1879-1880), died in infancy and are interred with their grandmother in the mausoleum. Susan died in 1905 at the age of 57 and is buried with her husband beside the mausoleum.
There is a sad footnote to the history of this mausoleum. According to a report I found put together by the Chicora Foundation in 2014, the Taylor mausoleum was broken into in 2004 by vandals and three skulls were stolen. They have never been recovered.
The last person I’m going to talk about only lived 13 years and she was part of a large influential family. The Lumpkin/Cobb plot at Oconee Hill is pretty hard to miss. In the photo I took, you can see the iron truss bridge leading to the other side of the cemetery.
I could spend an entire blog post on this plot alone but I want to focus on the Cobbs. Lucy was the daughter of Thomas Reade Rootes (R.R.) Cobb and Marion McHenry Lumpkin Cobb. I wrote about Cobb’s brother, Georgia Governor Howell Cobb, in Part I.
Having grown up at Cherry Hill Plantation with Howell after his birth in 1823, Thomas graduated from the University of Georgia at the top of his class and was admitted to the bar in 1842. He took the position of reporter for the state Supreme Court, publishing several legal works.
Lucy was the first child of Thomas and Marion, born in 1844. Thomas had always been a champion of a quality education for both men and women. After reading an anonymous letter in 1854 published in the local newspaper about the sad state of education for females, Thomas began raising funds for a school for girls that went beyond a finishing school curriculum. He did not learn until later that the letter was written by his sister, Laura Cobb Rutherford.
“The Education of Our Girls”
Both Thomas and Marion were preparing for Lucy to attend the school after it opened but it was not to be. Lucy died of Scarlet Fever on Oct. 14, 1857 at the age of 13. The school was named in her memory and opened in January 1859. Thomas also helped established the Lumpkin Law School at the University of Georgia that same year.
Lucy’s younger sisters, Callie and Sallie, did attend the new Lucy Cobb Institute. But the Cobb family’s association with the school changed after one of the girls quarreled with a teacher. The Cobbs withdrew both children from the school. But Thomas’ niece, Mildred “Miss Millie” Lewis Rutherford, would later take over leadership of the school in 1880 and proved to be a wise, dedicated educator as well as an accomplished author.
Despite the school’s esteemed reputation, it did not survive the Great Depression and closed in 1931. The University of Georgia took over its campus, and used the main building as a women’s dormitory and eventually storage. Restoration efforts were completed in 1997 and it now houses the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
While Cobb was a Unionist politically, he defended slavery as his brother Howell did and later pushed for secession. The original draft of the Confederate Constitution is thought to be in his handwriting. But Thomas Cobb didn’t get along well with his fellow legislators. He raised his own regiment of troops, Cobb’s Legion, in 1861 and led them as a commissioned colonel, taking part in the battles of Seven Days, Second Manassas, and Sharpsburg.
Death at Fredericksburg
In October 1862, Col. Cobb took command of a brigade formerly led by brother Howell Cobb and was promoted to Brigadier General. Soon after, he was killed on Dec. 13, 1862 at at the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia. He was 39 years old. Marion died on July 10, 1897 at the age of 75.
I will note that the Cobb’s home has its own interesting history. You can read about that here.
I’ve got a bit more to share about Oconee Hill Cemetery so come back for Part IV next time.