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Saving the cemetery

Nearly two dozen people enjoyed the great outdoors Saturday by taking part in a cleanup project that brought new life to a historic site in Tennessee’s oldest town.
The Old Jonesborough Cemetery, where some of the most well-known former residents of the town are buried, was in need of some major maintenance of late. Leaders of the Heritage Alliance organized the Saturday cleanup session to spruce up the cemetery.
Volunteers spent the day clearing out debris and freeing up fences within the cemetery from overgrown trees and brush.
“We try to get in here at least once a quarter,” said Deborah Montanti, executive director of the Heritage Alliance. “But you can’t just bring a big old lawn mower around and be done. You have to be very careful in how you clean and maintain this place.”
The cemetery’s first plot was purchased and given to the town in 1803, Montanti said.
“All of Jonesborough’s illustrious names are here,” she noted. “It is literally an old historic cemetery that has treasures yet to be discovered.”
In addition to regular landscaping, members of the Heritage Alliance also clean the tombstones at the cemetery with a special product designed for such work.
“The stories in this cemetery itself are beyond fascinating. They really are,” Montanti said. “There is a Revolutionary War veteran buried here and several Civil War veterans.”
Also buried at the cemetery is Cadet Wm. H. Cox, whose tombstone is the most photographed of all those in the cemetery, according to Montanti.
“Cadet Cox was from Jonesborough,” Montanti said of the U.S. Naval Academy member. “When he came back, he wanted a row boat. He got one, but the first time he took it out, he capsized it.”
Images representing Cox’s untimely death at sea are on his tombstone.
Others buried in the cemetery include Knoxville’s first-ever mayor as well as a young boy nicknamed “Wee James,” who lived next door to the cemetery at the time of his death.
“Supposedly James and his older sister were playing here and a tombstone fell on him and killed him,” Montanti said. “We have his death portrait in our museum.”
The cemetery was purchased for the town in the early 1800s, but was administrated privately up until recent years. Now, the Heritage Alliance works with the Town of Jonesborough to maintain the site through their own efforts as well as those of volunteers.
“This is an incredible turnout for us. It lifts my heart, it really does,” Montanti said. “That’s just the Jonesborough way. We live in such a special place.”