July 2, 2015
By Kelly Sowell, Elmwood Historian
Most Memphians are familiar with Graham Street, but probably don’t know anything about the Graham family for which the street was named. George F. Graham was one of the earliest settlers in this area. He bought his land directly from the Native Americans before Shelby County was officially established. His farm, which consisted of several hundred acres, was east of where the Highland Heights neighborhood is today and South of Macon Road. Graham helped state commissioners locate and lay off the county seat in an area known as Sanderlin’s Bluff. His son, Joseph Graham chose the name for this new town. The family came from North Carolina to settle in this area, so Joseph Graham decided to call the new county seat Raleigh after his hometown.
When the land on what was the Graham farm was being developed, it became apparent that the family cemetery needed to be addressed. On January 24, 1951, the 6 bodies in the Graham family cemetery were reinterred at Elmwood. What gravestones existed were moved along with their remains. There are three tablet style markers in the South Grove section of the cemetery. One of which belongs to Dr. George Graham, who died in 1827, twenty five years before Elmwood was established. His is one of the oldest existing gravestones in Memphis. The only gravestone that might be older is for Sally Carr Bettis who died in 1826 and is interred in the Bettis family cemetery next to what is now Cash Saver grocery store. To the right of George Graham’s stone is one for Col. Joseph Graham who died in 1837. To his right is his wife, Sarah, who died in 1842. All three tablets are broken but Sarah’s is the most damaged. It cracked in several places and broke into a dozen pieces. Grass was growing through the cracks and some pieces were sinking into the ground.
Elmwood’s superintendent began the project of repairing Sarah Graham’s gravestone earlier in the year. He dug up the pieces of stone then placed them on a large board. The board provided a flat surface to repair the gravestone. The pieces were cleaned and some were adhered together with epoxy and left to cure. During a Stone College class in June, we attempted to finish piecing together the tablet style stone. Due to rain and the weight of the stone, the board had warped over the months. We were able to adhere all but one of the remaining pieces due to the warping. The corner piece would not fit. We will have to revisit this project but I am very satisfied with the progress. Sarah K. Graham’s gravestone is clean and much easier to read now. The D/2 solution we used to clean it should continue to brighten the stone over time. Eventually the other two Graham gravestones will be repaired in the same manner. Though not an uncommon style of grave marker, there are only a few others like them in Elmwood Cemetery so they should be preserved.
Click on the photograph to see more.