Today I’m finishing up my series on Pioneer Cemetery in Greenville, Ala. by tying up some loose ends.
One thing I noticed as soon as I opened the gate of Pioneer Cemetery is the lone mausoleum on the property. It belongs to Walter Oliver Parmer (1855-1932) and his wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dunklin Parmer. Her parents were James H. Dunklin and Abbie Reid Dunklin, whom I wrote about in one of my previous posts.
Born in 1855 to Dr. Clinton Dale Parmer and Eleanor Oliver Parmer in Greenville, Walter entered East Alabama Male College (now Auburn University) in 1871. In April 1873, before finishing his junior year, Walter returned home due to his father’s illness. He never completed his degree. Forty years after he left Auburn, the institution honored him with a diploma and membership in the alumni association.
On January 2, 1877, Walter married Lizzie Dunklin. During Reconstruction, Walter continued to produce cotton on the family farms but soon sold most of the family mercantile interests and cotton acreage. In 1883, he and Lizzie moved to Sumner County, Tenn., near Nashville where he bought the 107-acre Hughes place at Woodbine. He maintained his livestock, which included thoroughbred horses, until 1907.
That same year, Walter bought 600-acre Edenwold, an established thoroughbred breeding farm. In the meantime, he leased 400 acres of Belle Meade Plantation on the west side of Nashville, where the best thoroughbreds were stabled. Later, he would purchase Belle Meade and 24 adjoining acres from Colonel Luke Lea at a public auction in May 1916 for $55,000. When I lived in Nashville from 2003 to 2005, I visited Belle Meade (now a museum and winery) and it is indeed a beautiful place.
The Parmers’ philanthropic efforts are too numerous to list but they were especially devoted to education. The Parmer Elementary School in Belle Meade was constructed on land given by Parmer to the Davidson County Schools in 1925. The brick school building, opened in 1928, was in use until 1982. All that remains of the school after a 1985 fire is a brick archway.
But the Parmers still had a special place in their hearts for their hometown of Greenville. In 1925, Parmer announced that in his will he was providing a scholarship fund of $500,000, to be used perpetually as an educational trust for Butler County boys to become available upon the death of his wife. From school year 1936-37 to school year 2008-2009, more than 400 students have been selected as recipients of the Walter O. Parmer Scholarship.
Walter died on May 23, 1932 at age 76 and Lizzie died at age 76 on April 27, 1934. They never had any children of their own. They were brought back to Greenville for interment in the mausoleum. You’ll notice an interesting carving above the door. It’s a symbol I see from time to time and it often denotes that the deceased was a Mason (but not always).
In Ancient Egypt, the winged disk was a combined emblem of the sun, a double-headed cobra, and eagle or vulture wings. The cobra and the vulture represented Upper and Lower Egypt, in the geographical sense and in the sense of a Celestial Egypt and a Terrestrial Egypt. Such symbols are also associated with the Zodiac. Some people simply liked the look of it but as I said, it’s possibly because Parmer was likely a Mason.
The Daniel G. Dunklin Family
There are 26 Dunklins buried in Pioneer Cemetery and how they are related can get confusing. When I came across this row of monuments, I prepared to dive into the records to climb the branch of the Daniel G. Dunklin family tree.
Born on Oct. 28, 1823 to James Hilliard Dunklin and Catherine Lee Dunklin, Daniel Gafford Dunklin was considered a Greenville pioneer. His father, James, died when he was only four years old. Daniel was a merchant by trade and did well. He married Susan Catherine Burnett in 1847. Walter James Dunklin, their first son and the child who would live the longest, was born in 1852.
But the 1850s would bring a great deal of sorrow to Daniel and Susan. Born on Jan. 25. 1855, second son William Burnett Dunklin died on March 22, 1857. His brother, Daniel Girard Dunklin, was born a month later on April 21, 1857 but he died on June 5, 1859. I do not have photos of their graves but they are buried in front of their parents’ monuments.
“Not Lost But Gone Forever”
Fourth son Jesse Frank Dunklin was born on Aug. 8, 1859. His mother, Susan, died on June 28, 1862 at age 32. Her monument has a beautiful flower bud carved into it.
As if Daniel didn’t have enough to endure Jesse died at age three on Feb. 23, 1863. I did manage to get a picture of his grave.
I noticed that there was a damaged marker commemorating the lives of the three little boys the couple had lost atop a box grave.
On Jan. 11, 1864, Daniel remarried to 24-year-old Hannah Pickett Patton, daughter of Matthew and Louisa Patton. On Oct. 5, 1868, Hannah gave birth to their only child, Patton Bolling Dunklin.
Daniel continued to prosper as a merchant, serving as a city council member. He also served in the Alabama House of Representatives and on the State Democratic Executive Committee for 15 years. While I found evidence he served in the Confederacy during the Civil War, I don’t believe he reached the rank of major, a title he was addressed by in newspaper articles. This was a courtesy often given to Southern gentlemen high up on the social ladder. I’ve encountered quite a few honorary “colonels” that never served in the military at all. It was a common practice done out of respect.
On Sept. 14, 1895, Daniel died at age 71. Hannah, after some years as an invalid, passed away less than a year later on June 19, 1896. She is buried to his right.
So who was left to run the store? The task fell to Daniel’s two sons, William J. and Patton. Neither man had married and were now living together at the “old homestead” near Greenville.
Sleep, Brother Dear
Patton died at age 32 on Nov. 2, 1900. His last years had been trying ones, according to his obituary. It notes that he was seriously injured in an accident in 1893 when the horse he was riding ran away and dashed him against a bridge support. Despite poor health, he affectionately attended his mother, Hannah, in her last years before the death of both his parents.
It’s possible brother William felt quite all alone after his brother died. He was the only one left alive in his family. The inscription on Patton’s monument is one I have seen before. But the “brother” part has a sad ring to it.
Sleep, brother dear, and take thy rest. God called you home, He thought it best.
William J. Dunklin lived another 24 years after the death of Patton. He died at age 72 on May 30, 1924 after a long illness. He looked after his father’s store until selling it off to manage the family farm interests. He lived with his younger cousin, Walter Burnett (he was named after Walter J.), and his family during his last decade. It appears they took good care of him and he enjoyed being with the children.
However, William’s obituary has a rather bittersweet ring to it at the end:
For 72 years he has been going in and out before the people, having seen all of his associates of his younger days either moved away or or laid to their final rest. The present population to a great extent was new to him.
Where is William?
William’s obituary also says he was buried at Pioneer Cemetery, but I could not find a grave with his name on it when I was there. He does not have a memorial on Find a Grave. Perhaps because he was the last of his family, nobody took the responsibility of marking his grave. Or maybe he had one and it was broken. I don’t know. But it is my hope he is buried near his half-brother, Patton, with whom he was very close.
I do know that there are many unmarked graves at Pioneer. It looks like they have done GPR mapping of the cemetery and several have markers denoting these graves.
Having written this blog for over nine years now, I’ve written about many final resting places. Naturally, some stand out more than others. But Pioneer Cemetery is special to me for a number of reasons. Part of it is due to the many J. Abrams cast iron grave covers, but it goes beyond that. Brothers who died young. Children lost to illness. A barely wed couple separated by death. Widows and old gentlemen. These are stories that linger in my heart and head.
Magnolia Cemetery, half a mile away, is my next destination.