If you were looking to buy a cemetery, there is now one less option in Johnson City.
Oak Hill Cemetery, a historic graveyard near downtown, had been for sale since winter but owner Tim McKinney took it off the market late this past week because of limited interest.
He said he had one offer but it was too low for him to consider selling.
McKinney and his family have been involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the cemetery since McKinney’s father, Sam McKinney, bought it in 2007. His father put in walkways, repaired fences, built a storage shed and bought a large iron gate and placed it at the main entrance on Whitney Street. Boone and Lamont streets and Wilson Avenue also border Oak Hill.
McKinney had said his father likely spent at least $150,000 on improvements to the cemetery before his death in 2008.
McKinney inherited the cemetery and also the upkeep, which is considerable, he said. That physical labor and the financial burden of caring for a cemetery prompted him to find a buyer earlier this year.
Established in 1870, the cemetery is nearly as old as Johnson City itself, which was founded in 1869 by Henry Johnson. Johnson is buried in the cemetery. Col. LeRoy Reeves, the man who designed the Tennessee state flag is interred at Oak Hill. Around 60 Confederate soldiers are buried there, too. Many other notable early Johnson Citians are also buried at Oak Hill. Around 2,700 graves are located in the cemetery.
“There’s probably at least 1,000 plots left in that cemetery for sale,” McKinney said.
Efforts to restore the cemetery began before McKinney’s father bought it, because it had become overgrown with weeds and creeping vines, and many of the tombstones were damaged. Other tombstones are so old and worn the engravings are not very legible. One grave marker seemed to read a birth date of 1800 or 1805 and a death date of 1888. The name of the deceased was unclear.
A homeless campsite was reportedly located in the cemetery in the early 2000s.
Oak Hill Cemetery Friends and Volunteers organized in fall 2005 to help care for the cemetery.
McKinney said at least a dozen stones need repair right now, but that takes money. It also takes money to properly trim the grass, which can be a full-time job in the summer months.
McKinney does get money from Oak Hill Cemetery Friends and Volunteers, which solicits donations from as many relatives of those interred in the cemetery as can be found. McKinney said that money, which averages about $300 per month, is not enough to provide proper maintenance.