The historic Raleigh Tennessee Cemetery has burials dating from 1830 up to 1985.
In 1825, Memphis lost its place as the seat of Shelby County to its northeastern neighbor, Raleigh. The two towns would remain rivals until Memphis’ growth boom of the 1840’s and Raleigh’s eventual incorporation into the city of Memphis during its post-World War II expansion. One historic part of Raleigh is a cemetery on Old Raleigh Lagrange and East Street which dates back to the nineteenth century. The Raleigh cemetery is a part of Memphis history which now needs maintenance to be preserved.
The cemetery is hidden but larger than it first appears. It is seven acres located on Old Raleigh Lagrange, just across from Walls Automotive. It is difficult to tell how big the cemetery is upon first entrance because so much of it is covered in weeds and underbrush. Only a small section of the entire cemetery is currently cleared and able to be walked through. It is situated in a beautiful wooded area, which unfortunately makes its maintenance more difficult than modern cemeteries which are cleared of trees.
It has a rich history stretching from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth. It was originally part of the Raleigh Cumberland Church, which was the first Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the area. The earliest burial dates back to 1830. The people buried there range over all socioeconomic and cultural groups.
Memphis’ second mayor, Isaac Rawlings, is buried there. He did not want to be buried in the rough river town. Philantrhopist Wade Bolton’s children are also buried there. There are also African Americans buried there, some of whom were probably former slaves. During the yellow fever epidemics of the 1870’s, as some Memphians fled the city, some made their way to Raleigh and were buried in the cemetery as well.
- Provided by Memphis Heritage, Inc.
Raleigh Cemetery is located north of Memphis, just east of Old Austin Peay Highway and Raleigh Lagrange Road. This map shows the locations of all known sites at the Raleigh Springs cemetery. As the coordinates of some graves couldn't be determined, they've been placed in a specific section of the map (in the southeastern part).
The Raleigh Springs Conservancy periodically receives requests for walking tours of the cemetery. We do not plan to conduct a tour in the near future. After reviewing the long term effect of past tours and clean up/preservation efforts for the past several decades, the Conservancy finds that there are significant risks which accompany clean up efforts including the present immediate blight to the north of the grounds.
A comprehensive and sustainable plan and ongoing effort to improve the immediate area around the cemetery limits the threat to the gravestones and plantings that is now present. Due to the prior lack of policies and procedures, damage to markers and beneficial foliage has been evident during and after preparation for past walking tours. Short-term efforts to hastily repair gravestones and cut back the natural growth have resulted in significant damage to some monuments, with some having been destroyed. Century old plantings placed as part of historic gravesites have been killed. In recent years, graves have been desecrated. Incidents of vandalism and theft have occurred immediately upon the completion of clean up efforts and walking tours, since those efforts create an easy access for people wishing to use the cemetery for purposes other than its intended one. The cemetery needs to be secured and erosion issues addressed to protect and maintain the grounds long term.
We appreciate the concern of those who have expressed an interest in seeing the cemetery maintained. Our efforts will be focused on achieving long-term maintenance of the property with both security and erosion as essential areas to be addressed as well as continued and ongoing efforts to rid the shared streetscape of blight and illegal activities. We are grateful to all who have had an interest in the cemetery prior to our acceptance of it.
At some point we would like to offer tours once security and erosion issues are taken care of and year round maintenance is possible. This is a tremendous undertaking. If you wish to report illegal dumping, illegal activities, or stray dogs in or around the cemetery please do so via this link. You have the option of making your complaint anonymous.
If you are interested in preserving and maintaining the cemetery, please make a donation to the Raleigh Springs Conservancy and designate your donation for the Raleigh Cemetery. You may donate online here. Your donation is tax deductible and will be used for the benefit of the cemetery through the funding and implementation of sound plans for its future.