Old Gray Cemetery is located at 543 North Broadway.
Across 14 acres of wooded hills, Old Gray Cemetery makes for a fascinating afternoon walk, and probably has more history per minute of strolling than any other cemetery in the region.
Founded in 1850, it was named in honor of Thomas Gray, the English poet famous for “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Within walking distance of downtown Old Gray is Knoxville’s best example of the “Garden Cemetery” movement that began in Paris in the early 19th century. Although privately owned, from its earliest days Old Gray stood in for a public park in a city that lacked one.
Old Gray reflects both sides of the Civil War–the fiery Unionist “Parson” W.G. Brownlow is prominently buried here, as is Rep. Horace Maynard, a Lincoln ally who kept his seat in U.S. Congress even after his state had gone Confederate. And there are lots of Confederates here, including Col. Henry Ashby, shot to death in a partisan fight in 1868.
But perhaps more than anything, Old Gray reflects Knoxville’s burgeoning growth as a city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with almost countless connections to American and even world history.
Old-family Knoxvillians like the McClungs and the Williamses (including playwright Tennessee Williams‘ father and grandparents), mixed with immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, France, Italy, and Greece. Although the overwhelming majority of those buried here are white, each plot owner decided who would be buried here, and Old Gray is a resting place of at least six black people, including some former slaves.
Gravestone for Lloyd Branson, Knoxville’s most well-know professional painter. (Photography courtesy of Marilyn Roofner.)Graves of interest include:
Visit Old Gray’s official website for more information, opening times, and events. The cemetery’s Annual Lantern and Carriage Tour event, held each September, is well worth attending.
Also, join Laura Still for a guided tour (a portion of the ticket price supports Old Gray Cemetery. For a tour description and scheduled times, please visit knoxvillewalkingtours.com
Nearby: Immediately north, across the low wall is Knoxville’s National Cemetery at 939 Tyson Street). National Cemetery is a marked contrast to Old Gray and regimented and manicured due to its purpose and status as a military cemetery. Visited KHP’s expansive National Cemetery page here.