As we continue to live through more of the Coronavirus Pandemic, we begin to realize just how important cemeteries are becoming. Graveyards are not only burial sites for people, but they retain historical records which can help in locating a family’s ancestors. This information can be in the form of names, dates, family relationships and other particulars which are placed on grave stones. Therefore, it is important to consider cemeteries when looking for family records.
Located north of Dayton and east of U.S. Highway 27, Buttram Cemetery is the final resting place of many people from all walks of life. According to my research, the cemetery was originally begun before 1811 as the burial site for John Howard’s wife. Then, in April of 1811, when Howard deeded land to George Black, (Deed Book D) he left out “a place about four poles square which the said John hath heretofore occupied as a place to bury the dead and in which his former wife is buried.” (A pole is a surveyors tool and unit of length equal to five and one-half yards, 16 and one-half feet, 1/320 of a statute mile or one-fourth of a surveyor’s chain.)
The “original cemetery,” or old section, referred to on the plat maps, was on top of the hill in the northwest corner of the cemetery. And, in September of 1881, Nicholas Keith deeded land to the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church South at Dayton, Tennessee. Keith described this as being a farm he had recently sold to James G. Buttram and known as the Grave Yard acre of land in Rhea, and which “was reserved in my conveyance to said Buttram and I hereby Convey said land as a Grave Yard unto the above said Trustees and their successors forever.” However, Keith reserved a row where his family was buried, as did other family members who had buried their loved ones there. He also reserved the northeast corner for the “Colored families,” which he stated were not to be buried anywhere else in “this yard.”
The “old section” of this cemetery has an unusual feature in that there are many hand-carved stones which exhibited a capital “I” near the center of the base on both the headstone and footstone. There are also many carvings which can be found on the various stones in the cemetery. One of these reads: “Asleep in Jesus. Peaceful rest whose waking is supremely blest.” Another is: “A precious one from us has gone, a voice we loved is still; a place is vacant in our home, which never can be filled. God in His wisdom has recalled; the boon His love had given and though the body slumbers here, the soul is safe in Heaven.”
Sometime between 1881 and 1913, six additional sections were added to the cemetery. Most of the lots in these sections were approximately twenty feet square, and surrounded by low concrete walls. Several of the lots have had the walls removed, but the short corner posts still remain to indicate the preexisting wall. Then, in 1913 and 1915, C.H. Buttram recorded an addition of ten lots each of those two years. The first addition was south of the original cemetery and west of the main driveway; with the 1915 addition being south of and adjacent to the 1913 addition. Therefore, previous to 1920, an L-shaped section was laid out west and north of the original cemetery.
The Buttram Cemetery Company was incorporated in October of 1923 and named the following as members of that Company: James S. Frazier, J.F. Morgan, W.C. Bailey, C.F. McDonald, and A.P. Haggard. Four new sections containing eighty lots were added by the Company in 1924, with these being laid out on both sides of the main driveway south of the original cemetery. Expansion occurred again in May of 1932, and in November of 1939. The current layout of the cemetery was fixed during July of 1948, when the southeast corner was changed for the east driveway to continue straight down the hill parallel to the main driveway.
Today, Buttram Cemetery has a Board of Directors which is named the Buttram Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust, Inc., and meets annually to conduct the business of the cemetery. Also, Vanderwall Funeral Home maintains Faith Garden-section next to The Grove Church-as part of Rhea Memory Gardens. The Trust is using interest from monies received to provide mowing and upkeep for the cemetery, but is asking for help from relatives of families interred in the cemetery. Due to the higher cost of mowing, the board will not be able to do the upkeep needed unless more funds are available. An account is set up at Simply Bank, so that anyone can give at any time; and families will not have to do their own mowing or upkeep of the graves.
The next time any of us are in Buttram Cemetery, we need to stop and think about those who have gone before us, and their place in history. The ones who are buried there were from all walks of life, and, if they could speak to us today, they would definitely tell us fascinating stories about their lives of yesteryear and the history of the time in which they lived. Decoration is the weekend of May 2-3, and I urge you to give to the upkeep of the cemetery if your family is buried there. This will help to save the history of Rhea County for future generations. Also, as your Rhea County Historian I encourage you to study the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.
Pat Guffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org