Articles & Stories

Lexington's "Silent City" Now Home To Numerous Notables
Henry Clay, John C. Breckinridge, And Others Are Buried Here

By John Wilson Townsend - 1930

The Lexington Cemetery, one of the most beautiful of smaller American "silent cities of the dead," was incorporated in 1848, but was not established until the following year. It took the place of the half-dozen burial grounds in Lexington; which, had they been allowed to continue, would soon have resulted in every man having a private burial ground at his own back door.

The $7,000 required to purchase the 40-acre woodland of Thomas E. Boswell on West Main Street was obtained by public subscription in 1849. The men who raised most of the money were M. T. Scott, Benjamin Gratz, Madison C. Johnson, and Richard Higgins.

The original charter was amended after the property had been purchased and paid for with Messrs. Scott, Gratz, Johnson, Higgins, and the following men as incorporators: Stephen Swift; Joel Higgins; David A. Sayre, the banker; John Tilford, a noted merchant of early Lexington; A. T. Skillman, pioneer printer; E. K. Sayre; Robert Wickliffe, the noted advocate; Thomas Hemingway; John W. Tilford; John Lutz; D. M. Craig; A. F. Hawkins; Benjamin Warfield; Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge; Elisha Warfield; G. W. Sutton; John Brand; Henry T. Duncan; and Edward MacAlister.


This is the grave of Mary Breckinridge in the Lexington Cemetery, who founded the Frontier Nursing Service in Eastern Kentucky. She was born in 1881 and died May 16, 1965.

The Lexington Cemetery was dedicated June 25, 1850. The day was declared a holiday in Lexington, all business houses being closed and the entire population joining in the dedicatory ceremonies. An immense procession, probably the largest that ever proceeded to the local cemetery, if the funeral of Henry Clay be excepted, took part in the occasion. The Masonic and all other fraternal bodies of the city, with students from Transylvania University, were present.

The invocation was pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Miller, pastor of the Methodist church. Professor P. S. Ruter of Transylvania University, who enjoyed a reputation as a poet of considerable ability, read an ode especially written for the occasion, after which Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, delivered the address of the occasion. The Rev. E. F. Berkley, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, pronounced the benediction, after which the vast concourse returned to the city.

Starting with 40 acres in 1850, the Lexington Cemetery contained 169 acres in 1930. Entire credit, practically, for laying out the property must go to Charles S. Bell, a Scotch civil engineer, who was the superintendent of the cemetery for 54 years, or until his death in 1905. He was born, apparently, to be a cemetery superintendent, and he was true to his birthright.

In 1866 Regent John B. Bowman induced Mr. Bell to leave the cemetery for a year to help him lay out the grounds of the state college, and during that time Thomas Summerville was in charge of the local city of the dead. Bell returned in 1867, however, and continued to serve as superintendent until his death.

Bell was succeeded by James Nicol, another son of Scotland, who has "made good" as superintendent of the Lexington Cemetery. Mr. Nicol was appointed by the board of trustees a short time after the death of Mr. Bell and has served until the present time.
The Lexington Cemetery has never been christened with any other name; although, from time to time, public-spirited citizens have suggested various names like "Bellwood," in honor of its first superintendent.

The Lexington Cemetery is famous as the burial place of Henry Clay, the celebrated Kentucky statesman, whose monument mounting an eminence and standing 120 feet, is the most prominent object in the entire cemetery. This monument was dedicated July 4, 1857, five years and five days after Clay's death. Many citizens of Lexington survive until this day to tell of the elaborate and imposing ceremonies with which the pile of Kentucky "marble," brought from the Kentucky River banks, was dedicated.


One of the most famous "residents" of the Lexington Cemetery is former U. S. Senator Henry Clay, who died in Washington, D. C., and was buried here in 1852. This beautiful monument houses his tomb.

Beside Clay, his wife, who died in 1864, also sleeps in a similar sarcophagus to that of her husband. Clay's mother is buried in another part of the cemetery, and a simple monument, which the statesman himself had erected, marks her grave.

The Confederate monument, erected by the Southern women of Lexington, is, after Clay's monument, perhaps the most interesting one in the cemetery. This monument, as is well-known, is a "poem in stone" or a tangible reproduction of Father Abram J. Ryan's famous lyric The Conquered Banner. It is an object of considerable interest to all visitors. More than 500 Southern and 1,100 Northern soldiers sleep in plots designed especially for them.

After Henry Clay, the most distinguished man buried in the old cemetery is Kentucky's most famous man of letters, James Lane Allen, who died in New York in 1925 and was brought back to his old home to be laid with his father in the Allen family lot. He sleeps not very far from one of Kentucky's earlier novelists, Mrs. Catherine Ann Warfield, whose masterpiece The Household of Bouverie was a best-seller of 70 years ago (ca. 1860).

Near this pair of celebrities sleeps the fine friend of Rafinesque, John D. Clifford, the first Kentucky geologist, whose grave is unmarked, but whose writings may be read in the pages of The Western Review; and whose memorial tablet may be seen in the shadowy cathedral of Christ Church in Lexington, just across the aisle from a similar tablet to the memory of the church's first minister and Transylvania's first president, the Rev. James Moore, hero of Mr. Allen's first book, Flute and Violin (New York, 1891).

Judge James Hilary Mulligan, orator, lawyer, book-lover, diplomat, man of affairs, and author of In Kentucky, the most famous poem about Kentucky and Kentuckians since Stephen Collins Foster's My Old Kentucky Home, died in the mid-summer of 1915 at his Lexington home, Maxwell Place. He was buried, however, in the Roman Catholic Cemetery across the Leestown Pike from the Lexington Cemetery. His wife, a very brilliant and beautiful woman, died ten days before he did, and she was buried in the Lexington Cemetery.

Other noted men who sleep in the Lexington Cemetery are John C. Breckinridge, whose bronze statue stands on Cheapside and who was the youngest of all American vice-presidents; Colonel W. C. P. Breckinridge, known in many sections of the United States as the "silver-tongued orator of Kentucky;" General John Hunt Morgan, whose band of Confederate cavalrymen was unique in the annals of American warfare;

Chief Justice George Robertson, said to be the most quoted of American jurists; Colonel James Morrison, donor of Morrison College of Transylvania University and personal friend of Henry Clay, who wrote his will in which money was bequeathed to the college after Clay had declined to allow him to leave it to the statesman's son;


Civil War veteran J. R. Brown, born in 1815, was buried in the Lexington Cemetery in 1862. He was a lieutenant colonel in the 14th Regiment of the Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. His headstone is rather unique in design.
General Leslie Combs, father of former American Minister to Peru; Francis K. Hunt, one of the ablest Lexington lawyers, remembered by his friends as a most lovable, companionable man; General Gordon Granger, noted Federal leader, who sleeps near the cemetery lake; Major Hugh McKee; Senator James B. Beck; Senator Randall Lee Gibson; Oliver Frazer, the artist; and scores of other well-known men and women.

The monument to remember William "King" Solomon, hero of James Lane Allen's immortal story, was erected in the autumn of 1908 by a committee of Lexington men and women. Mr. Allen himself was the largest subscriber to the memorial fund, and when it was dedicated on September 17, 1908, his address on "King" Solomon was read by Judge James H. Mulligan. A large crowd attended the unveiling ceremonies.

The grave of "The King" was discovered by Superintendent Bell, who placed a small marker at its head. The last resting place of the hero-drunkard is in the shadow of Henry Clay's monument, just where "The King" would have had it, beyond question, as he admired the statesman above all other mortals.

The erection of the cemetery bridge increased the value of the property by at least $250,000, in the opinion of many. Before this viaduct or bridge was built, the road from the end of the old brick streets to the cemetery gate was down grade and then up, passing two dangerous railway crossings. It was a daily sight to see funeral processions down the hill cut in two by passing railway trains. This, happily, was done away with, when the cemetery bridge was thrown open to the public.

Memorable events in the life of the cemetery include the celebration in 1915 of the 100 years of peace between the United States and Great Britain, which was observed by the placing of an Oregon wreath on the sarcophagus of Henry Clay, and a more recent occasion, when a commission from Venezuela was sent to Lexington to deposit a bronze wreath at the tomb of the great Pan-American.

The present board of trustees of the Lexington Cemetery Company is composed of Judge J. D. Hunt, chairman; W. H. Cassell; George R. Hunt; Henry M. Skillman; Edmund Shelby; Dr. John W. Scott; and Richard T. Anderson.

Dr. Scott succeeded Joseph S. Woolfolk, a widely-known real estate broker, as member of the board. Mr. Woolfolk was a trustee for many years.



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