Old Gray Cemetery



How Gray Cemetery Was Named

Old Gray Cemetery is named in honor of Thomas Gray (1716-1771), the English poet who wrote "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard". After considering a great number of names ending in "vale", "dale" or wood" or commencing with "mount", the name Gray was suggested by Mrs. Henrietta Brown Reese, wife of Judge William B. Reese, the first president of the cemetery board of trustees.

The following stanzas from Thomas Gray's beautiful poem captures the essence of Old Gray:

  1. The Curfeu tolls the Knell of parting Day,
    The lowing Herd winds slowly o'er the Lea,
    The Plowman homeward plods his weary Way,
    And leaves the World to Darkness, and to me.

  2. Now fades the glimmering Landscape on the Sight,
    And all the Air a solemn Stillness holds;
    Save where the Beetle wheels his droning Flight,
    And drowsy Tinklings lull the distant Folds.

First Person Buried in Gray Cemetery

Sacred to the memory


William Martin

Died July 14, 1851

Aged about 23 years

William Martin was the first person buried in Gray Cemetery. He was fatally injured by the explosion of a cannon during a celebration held on July 4, 1851 in Knoxville on Asylum Hill. He was buried in the northwest corner on July 15, 1851 before the cemetery was completely laid out. His grave was unmarked. [Written on front of gravestone]

The story of his death and burial is recorded in a history of the cemetery written in 1885. His interment is listed in the records of St. John’s Episcopal Church. The monument was placed on June 4, 2000 to mark the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the founding of this historic cemetery. [Written on back of gravestone]      Quadrant D 3


Old Gray Cemetery is proud to be a part of the Civil War Heritage Trail. Significant military and civilian personnel associated with both the Federal and Confederate governments and local industry are buried within the thirteen acre site. The Horne monument with its almost life-sized sculpture of a Confederate soldier marks the graves of two Confederate veterans, William Asbury Horne (1845-1891), an assistant quartermaster with the 42nd Georgia Infantry, and John Fletcher Horne (1843-1906), who was a sergeant with the Kansas Bottom Tennessee Artillery.

The Civil War brought maintenance problems for the cemetery. In September, 1864, after having failed to obtain any aid in erecting a fence around the property from the military authorities it was deemed advisable to build a temporary wooden fence to prevent horses, mules, cattle, etc. from running over the grounds. However, by December, 1864, the committee appointed to contract with someone to build the fence reported that they had come to the conclusion "that it should be only a waste of money to erect such a fence as the troops were occasionally camping near said grounds". (OGMinutes, p. 54). This report was made after looking at the grounds and maturely considering the chances of the fence being permitted to remain. The president of the board of trustees was authorized to call upon the military authorities and obtain if possible protection for the cemetery.

Old Gray Cemetery's history reflects Knoxville's Civil War History. The War was traumatic in Knoxville, and its impact was felt by the Old Gray Cemetery board members. There was a good deal of consternation among the board of trustees over the purchase of lots with Confederate money. In 1864 the secretary reported that he had on hand $1,765.00 in Confederate money but since the occupation by the Federal troops at Knoxville on September 1, 1863, the money was deemed by the board members as worthless.

For a map of notable Civil War persons, click here.


Civil War Heritage