Elaine Cantrell and Chad Bailey work on documenting in Maple Lawn Cemetery graves.. Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press
Burials at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Jonesborough began when Mary Smith died in 1890, and while her tombstone is still in good shape and the writing legible, many in the 123-year-old resting place are not.
To ensure those legacies are not lost, two members of the Cemetery Survey Team of Northeast Tennessee are doing their part to log photos and written documentation of every headstone in the burial ground. That includes unmarked graves in the pauper’s section, where at least 69 graves have been documented.
Chad Bailey is finding those graves using dowsing rods. He and Elaine Cantrell have been working together several years surveying cemeteries all over Northeast Tennessee.
“Over the years the stones have deteriorated,” Cantrell said. “They’re worn. The stones that were done in the 1880s are about worn out and people aren’t going to be able to read them soon.”
The two have been working on documenting Maple Lawn Cemetery a couple of years, they said.
“We’ve been in the cemetery since May (but) we worked on the records about a year,” before starting the field work, Bailey said. They’re using cemetery records, obituaries from local newspapers and death records to make cross comparisons so the survey is correct. All the documents are put into large three-ring binders that might end up in the county archives one day, they said.
Bailey said information from two previous surveys has also been helpful.
Maple Lawn is the resting place for many prominent Washington County and Jonesborough leaders, notables like the Hoss family, John Cox, a banker in town; L.W. Keen, the town photographer, and Milton Keen, the town undertaker; Judge Samuel Kirkpatrick, the first president of the Maple Lawn Cemetery Association; Attorney General S.B. Keefauver; and Newton Hacker, the judge who dedicated the Washington County Courthouse in downtown Jonesborough in 1913.
There are also little-known people such as Maggie Baird, who died in Embreeville at age 23. She had migrated from Whitehaven, England. Bailey’s theory is that she may have come to the area to work in an iron factory in Embreeville.
Regardless of the status of any person buried in the cemetery, Bailey and Cantrell said the history needs to be preserved. There are approximately 461 cemeteries in Washington County and all are being surveyed.
Anyone who wants to become involved in the project can find more information at tngenweb.org.