Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mt. Ararat Cemetery, Nashville (Davidson County)

Gate to Mt. Ararat Cemetery (photograph by author)
Looking out of place today amidst the industrial corridor that is the Fesslers Lane area of Nashville lies one of Nashville's oldest African American lodge cemeteries.  In April 1869, the Sons of Relief No. 1 and the Colored Benevolent Society in Nashville came together to purchase the land and create the cemetery (Bobby L. Lovett, The African-American History of Nashville, Tennessee, 1780-1930, 108).  Burials have continued since that time, and to date there are hundreds of burials in the cemetery.
Cornerstone of the stone gates installed c. 1914. (photograph by author)

The cemetery has undergone periods of neglect followed by transformation.  By the middle 1910s it was a largely overgrown, neglected burial ground.  A period of revival in the 1920s was followed by another period of neglect, and by the 1970s the cemetery was overgrown and businesses such as Purity Dairy and trucking companies encroached on the space.  In 1982 ownership of the cemetery passed to Greenwood Cemetery, an African American cemetery founded by undertaker Preston Taylor in the 1880s.  Mt. Ararat is currently owned by National Christian Missionary Convention.

View of the encroachment on the cemetery.  (photograph by author)
The creation of the cemetery by two African American lodges is not its only contribution to lodge history in Nashville.  A number of people buried in the cemetery had connections to a number of other fraternal and benevolent lodges in Nashville.  Mt. Ararat is the burial site of Nelson McGavock, first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Prince Hall Masons in the state of Tennessee.  A quick reconnaissance of the cemetery also yielded a tombstone showing the symbol of the Mosaic Templars, an African American lodge founded in Little Rock, Arkansas by ex-slaves, one of which was born in Moscow, Tennessee.

Tombstone of Nelson McGavock, Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons.

The symbol for the Mosaic Templars is located above the name of Lucinda Boyd.

I think Mt. Ararat is interesting also because it shows that lodges worked together to improve their communities. Places such as Mt. Ararat Cemetery I believe show the collaboration and cooperation that lodges displayed towards each other. Rather than competing for the membership and dues of the community, groups worked together to create community institutions. I also find it interesting that although Mt. Ararat has faced several threats over the years it is still an active cemetery. People continue to care for it and to find meaning in it.

The transcription for the cemetery may be found here and here.


  1. This is the resting place for many of my ancestors. Thanks for the historical information. May they continue to rest in peace.

  2. I believe this is a resting place of Fate Thompson who died 6-30-1881. Parents Samuel and Martha (Mattie) Thompson. May they continue to rest in peace.

  3. Do you know the history behind the name 'Mt. Ararat' of the cemetery? I know it is associated with Noah's arc but curious to understand why they chose this name.