History, a story well told, can be found in more places than books. It has been passed down from generation to generation in many forms: quilts, stories retold, architecture, even in trash heaps. Perhaps no place records history any better than cemeteries. Nestled in the heart of Little Rock, Arkansas is a final resting place that is a treasure trove of history: Mount Holly Cemetery.
In 1843, when Roswell Beebe and Senator Chester Ashley donated the four-block tract of land to be used as a cemetery, many would become the final resting place of so many notable figures. This placid land sheltered by large oak shade trees and beautified by roses, berry bushes, and honeysuckle vines is often referred to as “The Westminster Abbey of Arkansas.”
So who’s buried there? It is filled with war heroes from two wars, both civil in nature. There are a number of literary minds that rest at Mount Holly. Early religious leaders in the region, political movers and shakers, a painter and architects, judges, attorneys, physicians, and a major banking family all have been interred in the walls of Mount Holly. It is the final resting place of people with connections to Native Americans. Mount Holly holds the stories of how many counties in Arkansas received their names, as well as many stories of “firsts” in the state. The list seems almost endless.
Some people buried at Mount Holly earned their place in history by being the “first” to do something. Perhaps the one that should be mentioned first is Canadian-born Peter LeFevre. His birth date, 1750, is the oldest recorded in the cemetery. However, he was not the first one buried in the cemetery. In April of 1843, William Cummins became the first to be laid to rest on the hill. Eliza Bertrand Cunningham’s grave can be found at Mount Holly. She was the first white woman to reside in Little Rock. Her son, Chester Cunningham was the first white child born in Little Rock.
Arkansas was rocked early in it’s statehood by two civil wars: The Civil War of the United States and the Brooks-Baxter War of Arkansas. Men who gave their lives in both of these conflicts are buried at Mount Holly. David O. Dodd, executed at age 17 after being convicted by the Union of spying for the South, was hanged and then buried at Mount Holly even though his home was in Camden, Arkansas. The youth became a martyr. On August 10, 1861, Lt. Omar Weaver was fatally wounded in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, making him the first to die from Arkansas in the Civil War. The remains of Lt. Weaver, along with a number of Confederate Generals, lie beneath the earth in this small cemetery. Among those Confederate Generals are: Major General Thomas J. Churchill, who also served the state as governor from 1881-83; Major General James Fleming Fagan; Brigadier General Allison Nelson, and Brigadier General John Edward Murray who was killed in the Battle of Atlanta, ironically on the day his nomination was confirmed. The family of Confederate General Albert Pike is buried in the Pike family plot.
Many buried at Mount Holly made literary contributions to the world. William E. Woodruff who founded Arkansas Gazette rests there. Sanford Faulkner is also buried there. He is credited with popularizing “The Arkansas Traveler” song and legend. The author of the tall tales written under the pen name of “Pete Whetstone”, Charles Fenton Mercer Noland, who is buried there, is also the lawyer who personally carried the statehood Constitution to Washington, D.C. for ratification in 1836. Colonel James Mitchell, CSA, was both the editor of the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette. He and J. N. Heiskell, another editor of the Arkansas Gazette, remains both lie beneath Mount Holly’s soil. Another newspaper, Arkansas True Democrat’s editor, Richard Henry Johnson, is also interred there.1939 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, John Gould Fletcher also rests in the graveyard. Beloved author of children’s books, Charlie May Simon also rests atop Mount Holly.
In addition to literary minds, the cemetery is the final resting place of two important architects and a famous artist. Arkansas’s state capitol building closely resembles the nation’s capitol. It’s architect, George R. Mann is buried at Mount Holly. The architect of another building that became the center of national news and attention in the 1950’s, John Parks Almand, is also buried there. What did he design? He was the master behind the plans for Little Rock Central High School, the backdrop for desegregation conflict.
Quatie Ross Memorial is in Mount Holly. She was the wife of Cherokee Chief John Ross. Sadly, Quatie died in the forced migration of her people on the “Trail of Tears” in 1839. Though he is not a Native American, Cephus Washburn, a Presbyterian missionary, preached the gospel to Native Americans. He, too, rests in the small plot of land in the center of the city.
Other religious leaders were buried at Mount Holly. It was in the home of Isaac Watkins in 1824, that the first local Baptist Church was organized. John H. Crease founded Christ Episcopal Church, and Reverend Thomas R. Welch founded the first Presbyterian Church in Arkansas.
Early doctors such as Isaac Folsom, founder of the City Hospital, and Dr. Matthew Cunningham, who also became Mayor of Little Rock, were instrumental in early health in the region. They along with Attorney Frederick W. Trapnall, a leader in the community, are buried in the cemtery. The famous banking family, the Worthens, have a plot in Mount Holly. It is marked by the largest and tallest obelisk in the cemetery.
Interred at Mount Holly are eleven Governors of Arkansas: George Izard (2nd governor), William S. Fulton, Thomas J. Churchill, Elias N. Conway, Henry Rector (governor when the vote to secede from the Union was taken), William R. Miller, James P. Eagle, Jeff Davis, Simon P. Hughes, Augustus Garland, and most recently in 1983, Frank White.
Fourteen State Supreme Court Justices and twenty-two Mayors of Little Rock, four U.S. Senators,as well as a host of former politicians and legislators who served in Arkansas’s General Assembly are interred at Mount Holly.
The men behind the names of many of the counties in Arkansas lie buried at Mount Holly. Ashley County is named in honor of Chester Ashley. Conway County is named after the famous Conway family in the Conway-Johnson Dynasty that ruled the state for a number of years. Faulkner County
honors Sanford Faulkner. Fulton County obtained its name from William S. Fulton; Garland County, from August Garland; Izard County from George Izard; Newton County from Thomas W. Newton; Sevier County from Ambrose Sevier; and Woodruff County from William E. Woodruff.
Today, Mount Holly is on the National Historic Register and is a highly visited tourist attraction. It’s upkeep is funded through memorials and donations made to the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, along with a small tax the city levies on each lot. The Association was organized in 1915 by a group of ladies. Today they maintain the cemetery as an historic shrine. They also administer the finances of the Association. They do all of this voluntarily. Columbarium space remains available at Mount Holly.
The Association gladly accepts contributions and memorials. All such funds should be sent to Treasurer, P.O. Box 250118, Little Rock, AR 72225.