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Vince Staten: City Cemetery’s name changed to Oak Hill Cemetery in 1951

VINCE STATEN • Jun 18, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Here’s a puzzle for you, courtesy of Kenny Stallard:

J. Fred Johnson was not buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. But he is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Figure it out?

Right, they changed the name of the cemetery.

From the Kingsport Times of June 3, 1951: “New bronze plaques at the entrance to the Kingsport Cemetery, on the Gate City Highway, bring to a close a long period of public confusion about the name. The development, not a municipal project as its former name might have implied, will be known from now on as Oak Hill Cemetery.”

According to that newspaper story, Oak Hill Cemetery, known until 1951 as City Cemetery, was founded in 1916 when the Kingsport Cemetery Corp. purchased 90 acres of land. John Nolen, the Boston landscape architect who drafted the master plan for Kingsport, was hired to draw up the design for the cemetery’s curving drives and rolling contours. Its first resident arrived in March, 1917.

Donna Brummett is in the process of photographing every stone and monument at Oak Hill and recording the name and photo for a website called Find A Grave (www.findagrave.com) and on the USGenWeb site. She says that Oak Hill was not the first cemetery in Kingsport.

“Prior to Oak Hill, there was a cemetery, approximately where the Mead used to be (current location of Domtar), that was known as the City Cemetery. When the Mead came to town, the City Cemetery was moved to the present location of Oak Hill. Most of the graves from the City Cemetery are located in the Z section of Oak Hill.”

Donna adds, “There are over 24,000 folk buried at Oak Hill with more added almost daily.”

So when Johnson was buried there in 1944 it was City Cemetery. Seven years later it became Oak Hill.


My column on J. Fred Johnson’s grave prompted a question from John Frazier, who noted the headstones of Johnson’s mother and first wife :

Mary Peirce Early Johnson 1855-1933

Ruth Evelyn Carter Johnson 1873-1933

“How did his first wife and mother die? I see where they died the same year. Were the causes of death the same, like an accident or illness, or it was just a coincidence that they both died in the same year?”

I wondered the same thing. Was it a flu epidemic? Were they riding together and victims of a car accident?

It turns out they died four months apart, of unrelated causes.

J. Fred’s mother, Mary, died first, on Thursday, March 16, 1933. “Mother of J. Fred Johnson Had Been Ill For Several Weeks But Death Was Entirely Unexpected.” She died of a heart attack that was blamed in part on the recent Cherry Hill Tornado. “Since the tornado which struck the suburbs of Kingsport Tuesday night she had been much troubled and had expressed great anxiety over the storm sufferers. It was believed that this anxiety brought on the attack which hastened her death.”

His wife Ruth died July 28, 1933, “following an illness of about nine months,” according to her obituary in the Kingsport Times. Her pallbearers were a Who’s Who of Kingsport history: city financier John B. Dennis, Eastman’s first general manager Perley Wilcox, Eastman vice president J.C. Stone, merchant Flem Dobyns (Dobyns-Taylor Hardware), Dr. T.B. Yancey, one of the city’s first physicians, future mayor Glen Bruce, Kingsport Press president Col. E.W. Palmer and bank president A.D. Brockman.

(Stone, Wilcox, Brockman, Dobyns and Palmer had also been pallbearers for Johnson’s mother. The other three pallbearers had been Clinchfield-Portland Cement general manager Felix Guenther, railroad attorney George Penn and W.W. Hufford, manager of J. Fred Johnson’s Kingsport Stores.)


About the unusual spelling of J. Fred’s mother’s middle name — Peirce — this from Larry Pierce:

“When my immigrant ancestor came to the New World in 1633 his name was Thomas Peirce. By 1700 when his great grandson, Timothy, wrote the charter application for Plainfield, Connecticut the spelling had been changed to Pierce for most of the family. I had a high school English teacher, Mr. Matthews, who was from the Boston area who insisted on pronouncing my last name the way it was done there, to rhyme with purse. When we moved to Kingsport in 1976, I met Julia Peirce, who still spelled her name the original way.”

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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