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Preserving history
Tombstone preservation3.jpg
Tombstone preservation1.jpg
A 2022 Spring Cemetery Workshop is being organized by Warren County Genealogical and Historical Association for April 9. The workshop, presented by MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, will focus on tombstone preservation. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

McMinnville’s first cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places 20 years ago and its markers continue to provide a link to McMinnville’s earliest residents. 

“The cemetery is located on South High Street and is the city’s original cemetery,” said Brad Walker, Warren County Genealogical and Historical Association historian. 

Old City Cemetery, as it’s locally called, was established in 1813. The city of McMinnville was founded in 1810. The cemetery is 209 years old and the city 212. 

When a petition was filed in 2002 to add the cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places, information provided included the following: 

“The 90 readable monuments of the estimated 200 graves range from interment dates of 1813 to 1938. The majority of the monuments date from the 1830s to the 1880s and are tablets, obelisks, and pedestal tombs designed in classical revival styles with motifs, also called symbols, representing life, hope, nature, and salvation. 

Symbols including weeping willows, lambs, acorns, doves, Masonic emblems, as well as non-traditional motifs such as a beehive with grapevines. Several graves are discernible by a rectangular outline of rough-cut stone, without markers. Scattered throughout, and along the west bluff, are alternating mounds and indentions signifying unmarked graves.”

According to local historians, the line of indentions along the bluff is where African Americans were buried before the Civil War, while other indentions likely represent either moved graves or missing monuments. 

The most unique monument is in the White family plot close to South High Street. The White family included an early merchant, the founder of one of the first banks, and the builder of the second courthouse in McMinnville. The monument is a pedestal with a female figure at the top, facing South High Street. 

The female figure kneels on a tasseled cushion with one knee, her hands clasped in prayer. On one side of the pedestal is a carving of a wreath with the names “Jennie and Sallie” in the center. Below the wreath, the pedestal reads “Jennie, daughter of Wm. T. and M.J. White,” (1857-1862). The south side of the pedestal reads, “Sallie, daughter of Wm. T. and M.J. White,” (1860-1862). 

Many of the people buried in Old City Cemetery, in graves that are both marked and currently unmarked, directly impacted the early development of McMinnville in the 19th century. 

The first burial was Samuel Colville, who served as postmaster for the community. He was interred in 1813. His father-in-law, Robert Cowan, gave the land for the cemetery. The most locally well-known McMinnville resident to be buried in the cemetery is likely Major Joseph Colville (1764-1834), father of Samuel Colville, who along with two other men, donated 1,000 acres for the permanent county seat. In addition, Joseph Colville was the first county clerk, a postmaster, and the trustee for one of the first schools, Quincy Academy. 

Also of note is Col. Samuel Henderson. He was a Revolutionary War hero and an early settler of Boonesboro with Daniel Boone. He helped to rescue Boone’s daughter as well as his own future wife, Elizabeth Calloway, from the Indians. Henderson’s son, Pleasant Henderson (death circa 1837), who died when lightning struck his house, was the first circuit court clerk of McMinnville.  

Other early community leaders buried in the Old City Cemetery: Col. Samuel James Powell Thompson, a lawyer who bought the first lot in the center of the new community and built ornate brick buildings facing High Street. Landon A. Kincannon, who established the first bank, Kincannon’s Bank, around 1825. William “Buck” White, who also opened a bank, owned a store, was postmaster in 1828, and opened his home to orphan boys and girls. 

Preservation of monuments, such as those at McMinnville’s Old City Cemetery, will be the focus of a 2022 Spring Cemetery Workshop on April 9 organized by Warren County Genealogical and Historical Association. The workshop, presented by MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, will consist of a morning session from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Early Voting Room of the Warren County Administrative Offices Building on Locust Street and an afternoon session from 1 to 3 p.m. at Old City Cemetery.  

Pre-registration is required to attend. Register by email to or by calling 931-474-4227.