Around this time of year, people like to get themselves a little spooked out, and there are few places better to get that accomplished than a cemetery. And I opted to take a stroll through Maple Hill Cemetery this week and rather than feeling spooked, I instead walked away with a deep sense of appreciation for Alabama history.
Let me explain. First, it would have been impossible for me to actually work a full day and also take in the entire cemetery, as Maple Hill is Alabama’s largest cemetery — and one of its oldest. But just looking at headstones gave me a great deal of insight into where I live.Read more
To help give you a little bit of perspective into how special Maple Hill is, let’s look at just how old and how enormous this cemetery really is. The first burial at the cemetery is said to be somewhere around 1820. Which makes it one of the oldest cemeteries in Alabama. But it is without a doubt the state’s largest, at more than 100 acres and with more than 80,000 burials on the grounds.
That’s right. More than 80,000 people are buried at Maple Hill Cemetery. And taking a stroll through the grounds on a crisp autumn day took me back to simpler times, harder times, and even scarier times. Wars, pandemics, storms, floods and more took the lives of many of these folks, and yet regardless of how they passed, they’re all here. Right in my neighborhood. Resting.
It’s a pretty overwhelming thought when you try to take it all in.
Famous grave sites
Maple Hill is the final resting place for five former Alabama governors:
- Thomas Bibb (1782–1839), served 1820 to 1821.
- Clement Comer Clay (1789–1866), served 1835 to 1837; formerly a U.S. representative; later a U.S. senator.
- Reuben Chapman (1799–1882), served 1847 to 1849; formerly a U.S. representative.
- Robert M. Patton (1809–1885), served 1865 to 1868.
- David P. Lewis (1820–1884), served 1872 to 1874.
And as I wrote previously this month, the grave site of Thomas Bibb has a spooky history behind it, and legend is that his spirit rises at night on a full moon, still angry that he was not buried at his plantation home in Limestone County.
Also buried at Maple Hill Cemetery are five former U.S, Senators:
- John Williams Walker (1783–1823), Alabama’s first senator, served 1819 to 1822.
- Clement Comer Clay (1789–1866), served 1837 to 1841; formerly a governor and U.S. representative.
- Jeremiah Clemens (1814–1865), served 1849 to 1853.
- Clement Claiborne Clay (1816–1882), served 1853 to 1861; later a Confederate States senator.
- John J. Sparkman (1899–1985), served 1946 to 1979.
And 10 former members of the U.S. House of Representatives:
- Clement Comer Clay (1789–1866), served 1829 to 1835; later a governor and U.S. senator.
- Reuben Chapman (1799–1882), served 1835 to 1847; later a governor.
- Peter Myndert Dox (1813–1891), served 1869 to 1873.
- Joseph Humphrey Sloss (1826–1911), served 1871 to 1875.
- William Willis Garth (1828–1912), served 1877 to 1879.
- William M. Lowe (1842–1882), served 1879 to 1881 and 1882.
- William N. Richardson (1839–1914), served 1900 to 1914.
- Jabez Leftwich (1765–1855), served the state of Virginia from 1821 to 1825.
- Addison White (1824–1909), served the state of Kentucky from 1851 to 1853.
- Lowndes Henry Davis (1836–1920), served the state of Missouri from 1879 to 1885.
Other notable people buried at Maple Hill include:
- LeRoy Pope (1765–1844), historically dubbed the “Father of Huntsville,” and the owner of the original two acres of the cemetery.
- Priscilla Holmes Drake (1812-1892), women’s suffragist.
- Albert Russel Erskine (1871–1933), automobile magnate and president of Studebaker Motors.
- Harry Rhett Townes (1914-2001), Actor, Episcopal minister.
- Don Mincher (1938–2012), former Major League Baseball player.
An Alabama history lesson
Sure, you can learn a great deal about Huntsville’s history by walking through Maple Hill Cemetery, but given the age of the city and cemetery, much of Alabama’s history as a state can be taught here.
During the Civil War, Maple Hill Cemetery became the burial site of hundreds of unknown Confederate and Union soldiers. Most of the Confederate soldiers are buried in the Confederate section on the north side of the cemetery.
It is worth a day’s destination to take a stroll through Maple Hill Cemetery. You may be stung with nostalgia, inspired by history, spooked by spirits, or just thankful that you are able to absorb all of this history in such a beautiful place.