I’ve left Greenville, Ala.’s Pioneer Cemetery to travel just a half mile down the road to nearby Magnolia Cemetery. It’s much larger than Pioneer and recently became active again. According to Find a Grave, Magnolia has close to 4,900 memorials recorded but I suspect there are many more there than that.
The history of Magnolia Cemetery is a bit complicated. From what I could figure out, Magnolia opened in the 1870s after Pioneer filled up. A small burial ground called Pine Crest Cemetery was adjacent to it that opened in the 1920s. By the 1940s, Magnolia was expanded and Pine Crest was incorporated into Magnolia, dropping the Pine Crest name. If someone has a correction to that timeline, please let me know because I have read a few different accounts.
Sales of plots at Magnolia Cemetery stopped in 1992 when they ran out of space. However, a 2017 article reported that work completed to fix storm drain issues across Alabama Highway 10 and through Magnolia Cemetery enabled Greenville to offer new burial spaces for the first time in more than 20 years.
The Perry Family
After locating what always attracts me the most, the older part of the cemetery, I noticed a row of monuments clustered together and surrounded by some brickwork. So I photographed those first, hoping to do the research on them later.
Untangling the Perry/Dohrmeier plot took some doing, but some work done by others helped. Basically, it’s John T. Perry, his wife, one of his sisters, and his mother. Because the inscriptions are so worn, it took some detective work to transcribe them. Two of the monuments include anchors, which are often considered a symbol of hope.
The oldest monument is for Mary E. Perry (pictured below). She was born in 1804 in South Carolina and died on July 5, 1867 in Greenville, Ala. I’m not sure if her husband passed away before the move south.
On the other end of the row is Mary’s son, John T. (J.T.) Perry. He was born in 1833 in South Carolina. According to his obituary, the family moved to Greenville, Ala. when J.T. was “but a boy”. He married Polk County, Ala. native Armitta (or Arminta) Tomkins in 1871 when he was around 40 and she was 23. The couple had no children.
J.T. had his finger in many pies over the years, amassing quite a fortune. He went into the grocery business at one point with his sister Mahala’s husband, Herman Dohrmeier. Around 1879, J.T. built and opened the Perry House Hotel by the Greenville train depot. It included a bar, barber shop and billiard saloon. It was torn down in the 1970s. He also had interest in the local mill. At the time of his death, he was the mayor of Greenville.
Armitta died at age 39 on Sept. 26, 1886. Her obituary notes that she suffered from “congestion of the bowels” before she died. J.T.’s health declined after that and he died less than a year later on June 27, 1887 at the age of 54.
Because the couple had no children, J.T.’s death caused legal problems when it came time to administer his will. His three sisters (Mahala, Mary, and Martha) went to court to duke it out, which included a last-minute codicil and some cash found in a safe. Mahala expected to inherit a considerable chunk. By the time it went to court, she had married a gentleman with the last name Rothenhoffer and is listed as such in legal papers I read. There was also a nephew involved who wanted his share.
I tried to untangle the legal jargon and lengthy court proceedings but I never did figure out exactly who got what in the end. The case went all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court.
Mahala died on Jan. 19, 1913 at age 68 and her monument is between her brother, J.T., and her mother, Mary. Although she married Mr. Rothenhoffer after Herman Dohrmeir’s death in 1883, the 1910 U.S. Census lists her last name as Dohrmeier. Her monument has her last name as Dohrmeier and her obituary also lists her by that name. I’m not sure what happened to Mr. Rothenhoffer, so that’s one mystery I never did solve.
One tidbit you’ll find interesting is that at one time, there was a pavilion or “grave house” sheltering the Perry/Dohrmeier plot. This picture was taken by W. N. Manning on June 12, 1935. I guess over the years the structure collapsed and all that is left are the brick plot boundaries.
“Shed Not For Me the Bitter Tear”
As I wandered over to a cluster of what appeared to be recently cleaned monuments, I saw this one for Elizabeth “Bettie” Steiner. It stood out to me for a number of reasons. The intricately carved profusion of flowers above the inscription was one of them.
Born in 1850, Bettie was the eldest child of Joseph Steiner, a prosperous Greenville merchant and later a banker who emigrated from Germany as a young man, and Alabama native Margaret Mathilda Camp Steiner.
A Selma newspaper reported that Bettie’s death took place on July 26, 1870 and that she was supposedly engaged. It did not say to whom. She was only 20 when she died. Her touching epitaph is etched on the middle of the monument:
Shed not for me the bitter tear, Nor give the heart to vain regret, ‘Tis but the casket that lies here, the gem that filled it sparkles yet.
You might have noticed the carver’s mark on the bottom right of the monument. Does it look familiar at all?
Yes, that’s the mark of McDonald, March & Co. They carved the monument for the Dunklin children over at Pioneer Cemetery. You’ll notice, however, that they chose a different lettering style or “font” from the Dunklin one to use on Bettie’s monument.
Bettie had at least four siblings who lived longer lives. Her father, Joseph Steiner, died on Jan. 3, 1889 from apoplexy after a few years of illness. His monument is quite grand.
You might think it was also done by McDonald, March & Co. but it wasn’t. Instead, Joseph Steiner’s monument is signed by Montgomery, Ala. firm Curbow & Clapp. By the time Joseph Steiner died in 1889, Daniel McDonald had already passed away.
Curbow & Clapp was owned by Georgia-born Joseph A. Curbow and Avery L. Clapp. Joseph’s name may sound familiar to you. He took over H.W. Hitchcock’s marbleworks after he died in 1878.
Newspaper ads for their business state that the partnership began in 1850. The pair are probably best known for their involvement in the long process to create the large Confederate monument on Capitol Hill in Montgomery, Ala. They are sometimes given credit for the entire monument but it turns out they were brought in midway when communication between the Ladies Memorial Association (LMA) with designer/sculptor Alexander Doyle broke down. The story behind that monument’s creation is quite interesting.
Curbow & Clapp were so well regarded that Alabama Congressman Henry Washington Hilliard (1808-1892) specifically mentioned them in his will as the firm he wanted to provide his grave monument after he died. His will also stated he’d already designed what he wanted. As it happens, I unwittingly photographed it when I visited Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery in February 2021 when I visited.
Joseph A. Curbow died on Feb. 3, 1895 at age 58 and Avery Clapp died died the following year in 1896 at age 70. Both men are buried at Montgomery’s Oakwood Cemetery. I did not happen to photograph their graves while I was there but it’s possible I walked right past them.
Died on Valentine’s Day
Finally, I did solve a mystery that had plagued me since I photographed a small child’s grave that is near Bettie Steiner’s. There was no last name on it but the first name was so unique, I thought I had a chance of tracking him down. It was finding his death notice that solved the mystery.
Bettie’s younger sister Mathilda Caroline “Callie” Steiner was born in 1852 and she married merchant Jacob “Jake” Abner McGeHee in 1871. On Sept. 17, 1873, she gave birth to a son they named Irby. I don’t think they had any other children. He died on Valentine’s Day in 1875, only 15 months old. His obituary details his short life.
Callie died on July 4, 1901 and her death notice said she’d been an invalid for some time. She was 48. Jacob never remarried. He died on Jan. 28, 1919 at the home of his brother, William, at age 71. They are both buried in the Steiner plot close to Irby. I only got a photo of their graves as part of a larger picture I took of the family plot. I believe that is Callie’s grave to his left.
Next time, I’ll be sharing some of the cast iron grave covers of Magnolia Cemetery and the grave of the man who patented them in the 1870s.