Moore: Did you know about St. Elmo's other two cemeteries?

Moore: Did you know about St. Elmo's other two cemeteries?

November 12th, 2017 by Gay Morgan Moore in Opinion Columns

In 1838 and 1840, Elijah and Minerva Thurman (seated at the far left) acquired a number of tracts of land in what is now St.Elmo and immediately across the Georgia state line. The couple is pictured in this undated photograph with their children and grandchildren in front of their home, "Ashland." Shortly before his death in1873, Elijah deeded one acre of his property for a family cemetery.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Most area residents are familiar with Forest Hills Cemetery in St. Elmo. Few know about the other two cemeteries in the community.

The earliest was the Thurman Family Cemetery, located on what was once the farm of Elijah and Minerva Rice Thurman. Today trees and brush hide the Thurman Cemetery, which is behind the gates of the Chattanooga Refuse Center at the southern tip of St. Elmo Avenue.

Elijah, a twin, was the ninth of 11 children born to Revolutionary War veteran Philip Thurman and his wife, Keisha. The family lived in several East Tennessee locations before settling in Bledsoe County. Many of Philip and Keisha's descendants continue to live in the Sequatchie Valley.

Born in Anderson County, Tenn., in 1805, Elijah came to Hamilton County sometime before 1832. He married Minerva Rice of Rhea County in 1834, and they had six children. In 1839, Elijah became a charter member of the first Methodist church in Chattanooga (later the First Methodist Church and still later the First-Centenary United Methodist Church). He served as a church trustee.

Read more Chattanooga History Columns

Thurman's property was on land he bought for $7.50 per acre from the Ocoee Land District, following the Treaty of Echota and the removal of Cherokees from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. Thurman took possession in 1839-40 of six parcels of land in what is now St. Elmo. He also purchased land immediately across the state line in Georgia, where the couple established a farm they named "Ashland."

During the Civil War, the family lived on Missionary Ridge, where Bragg Reservation is now located. When the fighting ceased, they returned to their farm.

Shortly before he died, Elijah deeded an acre of his land for a family cemetery and became the first person buried there in January 1873. He was joined by Minerva in 1890. Four of their children and spouses followed them. There are 13 recorded graves in the cemetery, most being members of the Thurman family. The last recorded internment was for William Chambers, husband of Mary Thurman, in 1929. Many members of the family continued to live in St. Elmo.

Eventually, a portion of the Thurman family holdings were sold to William Crutchfield, who later sold the land to Z.C. Patten, a founder of the Chattanooga Medicine Company (Chattem, now Sanofi). Patten retained the name "Ashland" for his farm, which remains in the family.

The other St. Elmo "cemetery" was located on Alabama Avenue at the foot of Lookout Mountain. In the 1980s, St. Elmo resident and businessman Steve Sherfey found some unused tombstones when he purchased a building on Tennessee Avenue formerly occupied by a monument company. Sherfey discarded many of granite stones but decided to have a little fun with his friends, the Jeff Hall family, which lived on the Lookout Mountain side of Alabama Avenue. One Sunday, while the family was at church, he created a "cemetery" in their backyard. According to Sherfey, the Halls, when they recovered from the shock, thought the prank was quite funny, especially since one of the stones was engraved with the "Hall" name. Mrs. Hall eventually moved the "cemetery" to her flower garden. When they moved, the family took the "cemetery" with them.

No one knows exactly why or when, but the state of Tennessee declared the Hall's backyard a cemetery. A number of people came by to view the old "cemetery," some claiming to have family members buried there. When the Halls sold the home, the "cemetery" was forgotten — until the house was extensively damaged by the tornadoes of April 2011. When the homeowners applied for a permit to rebuild, they learned the property was listed as a cemetery by Hamilton County. The county refused to issue the permit. The mistake was eventually corrected, and the "cemetery" is no longer a matter of public record.

Gay Morgan Moore, a retired faculty member at Chattanooga State Community College, is the author of several books, including Chattanooga's Forest Hills Cemetery, Chattanooga's St. Elmo, and New Rules to Live By: A Daily Reading Book for Parents. Steve Sherfey, St. Elmo resident and businessman, assisted with information for this article.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...