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Northeast Tennessee Tombstone Tour

Five historic and scenic gravesites in the Appalachian Mountains.

Sometimes the best stories live on through final resting places. All throughout Northeast Tennessee there are hallowed stories of historical figures to be found along local trails and inside cemeteries. 

Trailside Graves

Visiting gravesites is a great way to spend the day learning about the region’s history while enjoying the scenery. Each story memorialized along a trail is a snapshot in time. That snapshot may allude to a ghost story or two worth sharing. It will remain unclear if these jaunts are haunted, but they do vary in skill level, so choose wisely.

Collette Grave – David Crockett Birthplace State Park

William Newton Collette served in the Union during the American Civil War and was born on June 30, 1843 and died Aug. 9, 1890, according to findagrave.com. The inscription on the gravemarker indicates that Collette was a member of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry. It’s believed that Collette owned and operated a mill on Limestone Creek near the Nolichucky River. While information about him seems limited, it’s believed that Collette was killed by a train. There are a few online inquiries that seek to obtain more official information about him. Collette’s story beckons for more attention and research. 

The shortest hiking distance to the Collette gravesite begins on the Limestone Creek Trail at the parking area along Davy Crockett Park Road. The walk alongside Limestone Creek is serene and leisurely. The right turn onto Collette Grave Trail is a bit steep, but the grave is midway along the trail, which is a tenth of a mile long.

Uncle Nick Grindstaff Grave – Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Uncle Nick “The Hermit” Grindstaff was a man who lived in a log cabin on Cross Mountain for 30 years. He was born on Dec. 26, 1851 and died on July 22, 1923. His only companions were an ox and a dog. There are stories about his dog Panter being by his side when he was found dead. “Friends counted it a worthy sacrifice of their time and energy to help carry his casket up the mountain,” according to ‘Carter County Tennessee And Its People 1796-1993.’ The epitaph on the gravestone reads, “lived alone, suffered alone, died alone.”

While Grindstaff may have been able to enjoy his time alone on the mountain, this hike may not be the best place to seek solitude. Foot traffic along the Appalachian Trail consists of frequent day, section, and thru hiker use. Community members have made efforts to maintain the memorial as recently as May 2022. An access point is located at the TN91 crossing of the Appalachian Trail at Osborne Farm between Carter and Johnson Counties. The gravesite is 3 miles southbound on the Appalachian Trail from the parking lot. Visitors should plan for moderately steep terrain for this out and back.

Scenic Cemeteries

Cemeteries are some of the nation’s first parks, however, they may be overlooked as opportunities for recreation with National Forest access so plentiful in Northeast Tennessee. Cemeteries offer many more stories of souls that have passed through before us, plus there’s also a beautiful view. If solitude is a top priority, there’s a good chance it can be found at the following scenic cemeteries.

Le Roy Reeves – Oak Hill Cemetery

Colonel Le Roy Reeves’ design of the Tennessee flag, which waves above his grave, was adopted by the state legislature on April 17, 1905. He was born in Johnson City in June 1876 and died in Washington D.C. on May 25, 1960. He taught in the Johnson City Schools, practiced law, joined the Army, and worked in the Office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington D.C.

The Oak Hill Cemetery is located in downtown Johnson City across from Founders Park. The cemetery offers a great view of Buffalo Mountain and the iconic Johnson City sign. Visitors can make a quick walk through the cemetery and rest for a picnic on the lawn. The story of another local historical figure can be found here as well. Guests can pay respects to Henry Johnson, who was the founder of Johnson City.

Mary Patton – Patton-Simmons Cemetery

Mary Patton is a female Revolutionary War figure who made history as a gunpowder maker. The gravestone inscription indicates that her gunpowder was used by John Sevier’s troops during the Battle of Kings Mountain. She died at the age of 85 having lived between 1751 and 1836. Her story is featured in the annual production of the state’s official outdoor drama called ‘Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals.’ 

This cemetery offers a stunning view of nearby mountains and is very close to residential homes along Toll Branch Road in Carter County. The residential atmosphere is a good reminder to remain reverent when paying respects to any of these local historical figures.

Andrew Johnson – Andrew Johnson National Historic Cemetery

Andrew Johnson was the seventeenth President of the United States. His gravesite sits at the top of a short winding road in downtown Greeneville. The land was purchased by Johnson in 1852. It’s said that this was Johnson’s favorite place to think and relax. Referred to as Signal Hill, it became Johnson’s final resting place in July 1875, according to the National Park Service.

The cemetery is a short drive along West Main Street from the Andrew Johnson Homestead. A view of Camp Creek Bald, or Viking Mountain, can be seen from the two-car parking lot at the top of the hill. This cemetery holds many other gravemarkers with stories of those that lived alongside Andrew Johnson as well as veterans who have died during more recent lifetimes.

Somber Spaces

Cemeteries and trails ensure Northeast Tennessee’s history lives on through the adventures we seek and the stories we tell today. Both spaces can be somber, yet offer visitors a place to stand in reverence of nature’s glory and pay respects to those who have come before.

Be sure to follow Northeast Tennessee on Instagram for reels highlighting each gravesite.

 

Written by Kayla Carter for Northeast Tennessee Tourism