The Richmond Cemetery
The Richmond Cemetery is a spot of natural beauty and great historic interest not far from downtown. It is seventy acres of rolling knolls and large handsome trees with winding roads throughout. Enclosed by a fence made from the finest Swedish steel, which during the Civil War surrounded the Richmond Courthouse, it lies quietly behind large imposing gates. The beauty of the cemetery is enhanced by the lovely Italian marble used to make many of the markers memorializing the people of Richmond as well as others from around Kentucky, Virginia and even overseas. Those interred represent many social backgrounds including governors, diplomats, and members of prominent Richmond families. Five served as President of Eastern Kentucky University. One was a Hall of Fame baseball player. Many were soldiers including a Revolutionary War Captain who fought with George Washington at Yorktown, and a Medal of Honor recipient who carried water to the wounded under fire at the Battle of Little Big Horn. There are the frontiersmen and farmers who struggled to settle Kentucky and shape the land. A Shoshone Chief, a pair Gypsy brothers, and many young mothers buried with their infants.
The Richmond Cemetery was chartered over one hundred and fifty years ago on January 25th, 1848, but eight years would pass before anyone would be buried there. Additional time was required to procure land and enact a needed tax. The city's dead continued to be buried on a knoll on the north side of East Main Street. By 1852 this graveyard was unable to accommodate more bodies. It was unkempt, unprotected and according to the Weekly Messenger; new graves could not be dug "without disinterring the moldering remains of some person who had for years been sleeping in the tomb. The graves of slumbering hundreds are exposed to be trampled upon by horses, cattle, hogs, etc." In response to this plea, the cemetery incorporators acted. Between 1852 and 1856 the corporation bought 18 acres of land from Joel Walker, previously owned by Colonel Humphrey Jones. In later years additional land was purchased above the first graves. The original main entrance was west of the current cemetery office, where a small pedestrian gate is located.
The first board of trustees was organized in 1856 and on May 31st of that year, the cemetery was dedicated. The Honorable Curtis F. Burnam, first Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during the presidency of U.S. Grant and a member of the 1890 Kentucky Constitutional Convention, delivered the address. "...Here the rich and poor shall sleep together, looking up to one common Father who is the maker of them all..." The next day the first funeral was held for Mrs. Jane Todd Breck, wife of United States Representative Daniel Breck, and Aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln. In the late 1850's the bodies from the old graveyard were moved to the new cemetery and speculation still remains about whether the bodies or only the markers and stones were relocated.
Richmond's dead slept peacefully until America went to war with herself in the 1860's. Kentucky was a neutral state, but both the Confederacy and the Union coveted her support and central location. In 1862, the Confederate and Union forces clashed at the Battle of Richmond (fought partly in the cemetery) and the citizens of Kentucky readily chose sides. Confederate forces under General Kirby Smith pushed Union soldiers under General William Nelson in to the graveyard. The soldiers used the tombstones for cover as the musket balls fired at them chipped away at the markers. The cemetery was in the line of battle and immediately became the burial ground of sixty-one of the Union dead, and later of one hundred and eighty other soldiers who were removed from graves at other points of the battlefield. These 241 graves, in a lot to themselves, were properly marked and cared for until 1869, when the remains were removed and separately reinterred in the National Cemetery at Camp Nelson near Nicholasville, Kentucky. Confederate soldier James Polk Scott is buried in the Richmond Cemetery as well as Union General John Miller, who was wounded in the battle and died seven days later. Approximately 174 Confederate soldiers are buried in a mass grave marked by a small stone reading "The Southern Dead". Today, a monument for all the Civil War veterans stands in the cemetery.
Since the battle was a Confederate victory, gray clad soldiers occupied Richmond for two months. They moved into the courthouse and used its iron fence (later moved to the cemetery) to imprison Union soldiers. Confederate soldiers broke into the cemetery office, located in the courthouse, and stole the record books, including the proceedings of the cemetery board up to August 1862. Due to this theft, much of the cemetery's history has been lost.
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, the Richmond cemetery continued to grow and improve. An additional tract of 10.5 acres was purchased from the Owen W. Walker heirs in 1883 enlarging the total cemetery to 28.5 acres. A new entrance was built at the present location in 1896, eliminating the need for funeral processions to pass the vicinity of the railroad tracks. A public vault was added in 1900 and another 5 acres was purchase in 1906. The iron fence was placed at the cemetery in 1908. Fifteen years later, the trustees authorized the purchase of 28 acres of land (of the former Gibson farm) from the state Normal school for $305.00 per acre. This land was the largest acreage purchased at one time and nearly doubled the size of the cemetery. Not only did the cemetery grow in size, it also became more aesthetically pleasing as lavish monuments were erected for the dead and trees, shrubs and flowers were planted to decorate the graves.
The cemetery's monuments range from simple stones to ornate sculptures to imposing obelisks. The Henderson memorial was carved by noted sculptress, Waldine Tauch, for her benefactress, Mrs. Margaret Miller Henderson. For every massive obelisk and intricately carved stone there stands a plain granite or limestone marker making a quiet statement about the individual buried beneath it. Bronze tablets mark the resting place of veterans, recording their rank and in what war or conflict they served.
The cemetery is the final resting place of several notable or prominent people, their monuments attesting to their fame. The three largest monuments are the Alexander Tribble memorial erected in the 1880's, the 45 foot James W. Caperton memorial erected in the early 1900's and the William Arnold - Harry B. Hanger memorial, also erected in the early 1900's. Perhaps the most impressive monument is the gothic memorial to Cassius M. Clay, statesman and Kentucky abolitionist. Equally impressive is the Christopher Irvine memorial, which honors an early settler in Madison County. Irvine was killed by Indians in 1786, north of the Ohio River. Irvine, the county seat of Estill was named for him. Far from ornate but equally eye-catching is the James B. McCreary monument. McCreary, a United States Senator and two term Kentucky Governor, lies beneath a large sandstone marker with his parrot, Polly. Another governor, Keen Johnson lies beneath a large granite stone simply inscribed "Governor of Kentucky". The most descriptive carving is found on the Captain James Estill monument, depicting the battle in which he died. A native of Virginia and one of the earliest settlers of Madison County, Estill was killed at Little Mountain, Kentucky, the present site of Mt. Sterling, on March 22, 1782. Estill County was named for him.
In his 1856 dedication speech, Curtis Burnam apologized for the cemetery's lack of beauty. He called the cemetery unimproved, yet susceptible to being made beautiful. Today the Richmond Cemetery has fulfilled the hopes of Burnam. "Our cemetery," wrote long time trustee James Neal, "has long been considered one of the most beautiful and historic cemeteries in the state and, as such, is indeed a legacy to be cherished.