During this month of baseball playoffs, college football rivalries, and ghost stories, the urge to stroll through local cemeteries is the strongest it will get all year.
While there are many beautiful and historic cemeteries in Maury County, perhaps none are better to stroll through than Rose Hill in Columbia. Founded in 1853 on land sold by city mayor Meredith Helm, Rose Hill replaced Greenwood as Columbia’s city cemetery.
In Rose Hill are the graves of soldiers, statesmen, and many other lauded individuals. The famous here range from a famous horse racer to a legendary stock car driver. The majority of the graves, however, belong to decent, hardworking people that helped build Columbia from the ground up. For most, their stories will never be fully known or told.
Rose Hill, unlike many other cemeteries in the county, was planned and platted. Popular at this time were “garden cemeteries.” This movement made cemeteries more like city parks than unorganized repositories for the dead. Rose Hill, for example, is laid out into blocks with drives through each section. Flowering trees and evergreens can be seen throughout.
With its many drives, Rose Hill is perfect for a stroll and what really catches the attention of visitors are the monuments. During the Victorian-era, ornate monuments were constructed for graves in Rose Hill. The best of these were ordered from the Muldoon Monument Co. of Louisville, Kentucky.
The Muldoon Monument Co. was founded in 1854 by Michael Muldoon. The earliest monuments from Muldoon in Rose Hill are in the Mayes family plot and are signed “Muldoon, Bullett, & Co.” Charles Bullett was a French sculptor who supervised the production of monuments in the firm’s workshop in Carrara, Italy. The monuments of Lou and Ella Mayes were made by this firm in the 1860s.
Another marker in the same plot is for Lena Mayes Childress and her daughter. Lena was a sibling to Lou and Ella Mayes. This monument—and those to Lou and Ella—have no dates on them, only their ages at death. Using her death date, Lena passed away between 1872 and 1873. Lena’s monument is a fine example of an extravagant late-Victorian marker.
There are two other fine monuments in this family plot, but no markings could be found to identify the makers. Muldoon is still in business today under the name Muldoon Memorials. Their website reads, “The test of our vistion is as simple as a trip to the cemetery. Find a memorial that impresses or inspires you and nine times out of ten, it was built by Muldoon.” Given those odds, it is fair to say Muldoon is responsible for the other two monuments in the Mayes plot.
Outside of the Mayes plot, there are other fine examples of Muldoon’s work in Rose Hill, including:
But, perhaps the premier Muldoon monument in Rose Hill Cemetery is the one located in the Confederate Section. This monument was designed in 1881 by George W. Kendall of the Muldoon Monument Co. and was delivered to Columbia by rail in 1882 when it was dedicated. An 1888 Tennessean article exclaims Muldoon & Co “have designed and built fourteen Confederate monuments. One of the best pieces of art is the “Lost Cause,” erected at Rose Hill, Columbia, Tenn., which is said to be perfect in all its proportions.” This monument features a Confederate soldier standing at funeral parade rest atop a pedestal that features inverted cannon barrels.
An ad for Muldoon Monument Co. from the back of an early Confederate Veteran magazine lists the Columbia monument as one of the company’s works. Ironically, also on the list is the Gen. Patrick Cleburne monument in Helena, Arkansas. Gen. Cleburne was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery after the Battle of Franklin where he fell. He was later removed to St. John’s graveyard and, once again, removed to Helena, Arkansas
One of the earliest stonecutters of note in the county was W. Bland. His work, for the most part, went unsigned. One tombstone identified as his work is that of Ed Voss. A short article from the February 3, 1871 Columbia Herald and Mail reads:
“One of the first companies that went from this county at the outbreak of the late War Between the States (and the last to come back,) was called the ‘Maury Greys,’ under Capt., no Col., Looney. Some time since, one of its members Ed. W. Voss, died in the vicinity, and the remaining soldiers of the company in this place erected a tombstone or monument over his remains at Rose Hill Cemetery. The work was done by Mr. Bland.”
What happened to Mr. Bland is unknown, save for the fact that William Shirley took over his shop in 1871.
William Shirley was perhaps the most prolific local stonecutter. Born in England in 1826, Shirley arrived in the United States at age 16 and married his first wife in New York at age 22. His first child was born in Maury County in 1851. The first found mention of William Shirley as a stonecutter is as a partner in the firm of Shirley & Shane in Nashville. This partnership produced many beautiful monuments in the 1860s, including that of James Hodge in Rose Hill.
In 1869, William Shirley and J. P. Shane dissolved their partnership and the next year found William Shirley in yet another partnership, this time with T. J. Canterbury. This firm was based out of Columbia, but this partnership, too, dissolved in 1871.
That same year, William Shirley took over W. Bland’s old shop and began his own marble works. He had several sons under his employment, including William N. “Bill” Shirley. “Bill” Shirley shared his father’s occupation as a stonecutter and mason. The two would also marry the same woman, but that’s a story for another time. Young Bill Shirley would go on to cut all of the limestone for the Columbia Arsenal buildings and is credited with discovering phosphate in Maury County. Despite the millions of dollars other people made from his discovery, Bill Shirley died a pauper and was buried in Rose Hill without a tombstone.
Many marvelous monuments in Rose Hill are engraved “Wm. Shirley.” These are more than likely the work of the elder William Shirley or, at least, were produced in old-man Shirley’s marble factory under his name.
His old partner, T. J. Canterbury also did a lot of work in Rose Hill during the 1870s. The Columbia Herald and Mail reported in their “Around Town” column on March 31, 1871, “Wm. Shirley says he has a $600 monument for Mrs. Sowell to go over her husband at Rose Hill.” The next sentence reads, “Mr. T. J. Canterbury sold in one hour last Monday over $2,000 worth of monuments.”
People were just dying to get those monuments!
Monuments in Rose Hill are not limited to Muldoon, Bland, Canterbury, and Shirley. Messrs. S. P. Payne, Hill, Arthur McPhee, and Gracy were all active stonecutters in Columbia after the Civil War. Still, other stones were transported to Columbia from Nashville, St. Louis, and similar large markets. W. M. Dean Marble Co. in Columbia also did a large amount of monument work around the turn of the century until relocating to Nashville in 1940. When Dean left Columbia, the art of stonecutting left, too. All we are left with today are the works these true artisans left behind, still standing ever-vigilant in Rose Hill.
The history and beauty of Rose Hill Cemetery are unsurpassed. Do yourself a favor and stroll among the stones. At the end of your stroll, you might just be able to pick out which ones are Muldoon or Columbia made.