BY BRUCE BRANUM
The Greenville Standard
The picture of the week from The Camellia Trail was taken from the west side of historic Pioneer Cemetery looking north along the wrought iron fence lining South Park Street.
Established in 1819, it is Greenville’s oldest cemetery and the site location for the Confederate Hospital from 1861-1865.
Notes from the Pioneer Cemetery Bicentennial Brochure indicate that after Greenville became Butler County’s seat of government in 1822, residents set aside a two-acre plot for a church and graveyard, marked on three sides by what are now Walnut, South Park (originally Cemetery Street), and Dunklin Streets.
Over the years, the communal burial ground was called the “Old Cemetery,” the “Methodist burying ground” and the “old pioneers cemetery.” Eventually its name became “Pioneer Cemetery.”
The cemetery’s first graves were marked by wooden crosses and headboards. Those grave markers vanished through the years.
Burials marked with obelisks, box tombs, ornate metal covers and fencing, statuary, decorative curbing, and scallop shell-covered mounds, as well as traditional tablets and ledger stones exist today.
The Father Ryan Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored a successful fund-raising effort in the 1920’s to have a wrought iron fence erected around the cemetery.
It replaced picket fences, barbed wire, and privet hedges that had enclosed the cemetery over the years.
In 1950, individuals and civic organizations planted a number of camellias in the southeast section of the cemetery to be used for floral cuttings in civic events.
In 2008, a restoration project between the City of Greenville and the Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association was developed.
Restoration began in 2009, first with the graves being photographed and catalogued and since with fencing repair work and brick and mortar restoration of grave sites and cemetery grounds. The work continues still today.
The oldest known grave is that of James Dunklin (June 24, 1779 – April 10, 1827), but there are many unmarked and “lost” graves that may be older.
An Indian chief and his wife who befriended the white settlers are said to be among other early burials. Captain William Butler, for whom the county is named, is buried there along with many Greenville/Butler County pioneers and Confederate Civil War soldiers.
The last burial in the cemetery took place in 1961 when Lily Black Stanley (July 2, 1876 – August 3, 1961) was buried there.
Pioneer Cemetery was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1976.