Located in the University of Georgia’s backyard is a quiet gem of Athens history: the Oconee Hill Cemetery. Established 1856, the seventeen, original acres are located on the banks of the Oconee river. The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as one of the most outstanding examples of Victorian cemeteries in the nation. As well as its architectural aesthetic and commendable engineering, the cemetery serves as the final resting place for many notable Georgians.
The land for the cemetery was purchased in 1855, as the necessity to provide an alternative to the crowded Jackson Street Cemetery became obvious to the city. James Camak, a prominent member of the University of Georgia’s faculty at the time, was selected to create the layout for the cemetery. His design was influenced by the movement of the natural terrain, yielding a feeling that the destination is more a garden or a park than a place for the deceased with its winding trails and rolling hills. Oconee Hill Cemetery embodies the romantic era in which it was created; an era during which Victorians found a deepening appreciation for nature and natural beauty.
Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, High Victorian Gothic, and Egyptian Revival are among the styles of architecture that appear in many of the mausoleums, obelisks, and headstones. The sexton, caretaker of the property, resided in a house built in 1892 in the Georgian cottage style.
In 1898, the trustees acquired an additional eighty-two acres located across the Oconee River. To link the new area to the already existing property, the George E. King Bridge Company of Des Moines, Iowa was contracted in 1899 to build a bridge. The bridge (pictured above) is notable for its decorative, cast iron cresting at the portals.
Many famous Georgians have found their final resting places at Oconee Hill Cemetery including several University of Georgia presidents (or ‘chancellors’ as they were once known)―among them Alonzo Church, Patrick Hues Mell, Walter Barnard Hill, David Crenshaw Barrow, and Omar Clyde Aderhold. Former Georgia governors Wilson Lumpkin and Howell Cobb, as well as Crawford Long, have also chosen this cemetery as their final resting place.
After almost 160 years, Oconee Hill Cemetery is still open to the public and is truly a sight to behold. Hundreds of students pass the cemetery every day on their way to class, but few know the antiquity that lies behind its gates. A stroll or perhaps a bike ride through the gates would certainly prove worthwhile for any person not already familiar with its beauties.
— Marie Walker is a Freshman majoring in History and minoring in Theater. She is a first-time contributor to THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.
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