Henderson County, Kentucky


General Samuel HOPKINS never gave the city a deed for the property that became the first graveyard. But E. L. STARLING noted in his "History of Henderson County" that "the remains of a large majority of those who died from 1800 up to 1849" were buried there and "it is a self-evident fact that the lot was intended for a public burial ground and was so given."

In 1849, a private firm called the Henderson Cemetery Company was chartered by the General Assembly, and in 1853 that company paid $1,397.00 for about 18.5 acres on the Madisonville Road.

In the fall of 1854, the city of Henderson acquired all liabilities and assets of that company for about $2,000.00, according to the record books in the city clerk's office, and the land on Madisonville Road became what is now called Fernwood Cemetery. Shortly prior to that, however, on 02 Aug 1854, the city council prohibited further burials at Fourth and Elm Streets.

In the spring of 1855 the city made a contract with William B. VANSANT to build a sexton's house at Fernwood Cemetery. (VANSANT by the way, was Henderson's first mayor, but he resigned in a huff in 1854 after serving only five months.) The contract has disappeared from the city's records, but apparently it also called for VANSANT to remove the bodies buried at Fourth and Elm and rebury them in Fernwood.

"Mr. VANDZANDT was actively engaged at this work" in July 1855, STARLING wrote, "but it was deemed best for the public health to defer further removals until the fall of the year, at which time the contract was completed."

Unfortunately that's not quite right. The official records at the city clerk's office indicate that VANSANT never completed that work. On 04 Mar 1856, he asked the city to pay him $400.00 on his unfinished contracts with the city. There is no mention in the city's records of him ever being paid in full for the relocation of the graves.

In fact, a decade later -- in the fall of 1865 -- the city council instructed its street committee to inspect the old cemetery and "remove the outside graves and secure the fence." Apparently the outside graves were those outside of the fence.

Throughout the last half of the 1800s, contractors often obtained sand from the hill that use to be at the rear of that lot. In doing so, they sometimes uncovered graves, which prompted the city council to prohibit that practice in the spring of 1888.

In late August of 1905, workers with the R. P. FARNSWORTH Company dug up "quite a large number of skeletons" while removing sand at Fourth and Elm streets. "On several occasions during the progress of the work, bones and pieces of old coffins have been found there."

In 1950, a grave marker for Mrs. Jane S. ROBERTSON, who departed this life 08 Jul 1851, in the 50th year of her age, was found at the bottom of a seven-foot-deep hold that David BURKELOW was digging to place a light pole. Keep in mind that this site was where the city's original power plant had been built 54 years earlier.

The old cemetery was condemned many years ago, and none of the remains of persons buried there can be identified by anybody living now. It's not much of a secret that the HART bus garage at Fourth and Elm streets sits atop Henderson's original graveyard. City workers didn't find any bones when they built the bus garage, nor when they dug up the underground storage tanks two years ago.

There doesn't seem to be any peaceful rest for those in the city's original cemetery.

Story researched and contributed by Frank BOYETT, The Gleaner, Sunday, 03 Dec 2000
Reprinted with permission.

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS