UGA Heritage:

Historic Oconee Hills Cemetery

Many alumni are unaware of a unique partnership between the University and the historic Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens.

Actually, a special relationship has existed since the cemetery was founded in 1856. The first gravesites in Athens were located on unused portions of the college campus.  When the burial ground spread close to the dwellings of the president and UGA faculty members, the university trustees petitioned the mayor and wardens of Athens too create a public cemetery for the community. City officials reacted positively and 17 acres beside the Oconee river were purchased.

Management of the cemetery was assigned to a self-perpetuating board of trustees. By 1896 practically all the lots had been sold and the trustees acquired an additional tract of 82 acres. The new tract was located across the Oconee River, and trustees with the financial aid of the city built a 150ft. bridge connecting the new with the old.

Since its beginning, many university personnel and alumni have been connected to the cemetery. University presidents, prominent alumni, community leaders and significant Georgians are buried in the lovely 100 acre cemetery adjacent to Sanford Stadium.  Even Georgia lettermen, who have fond memories of their Saturdays there have purchased an area called “Bulldog Haven” as their final resting place.

Among those interred at the cemetery are several UGA presidents, two Georgia governors¸ the first chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, four Confederate generals, and veterans of all wars fought by Americans; numerous congressmen and former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk along with Dr. Crawford Long (discoverer of anesthesia and William Lorenzo Moss who developed a method of classifying blood groupings. Bulldog football legends including coaches Wally Butts and Bill Hartman are buried in Oconee Hill as is Ricky Wilson, guitarist for the rock band B 52’s.

Especially impressive is the Victorian Sexton House located near the cemetery entrance. It was beautifully restored and refurbished by the Friends of Oconee Cemetery in 2007.  It was the home of the cemetery sexton for 90 years. It is a great meeting place for families in conjunction with funeral services, and with its expansion is available for campus meetings, social events, and other occasions deemed appropriate by the committee.

The main area of the house consists of four large rooms with a spacious connecting hall, known as a Georgian cottage design. A wing contains men’s and women’s rest rooms as well as a catering kitchen. Large front and rear porches provide additional reception space. All areas, except for the kitchen, are wheelchair accessible.

The Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery was established in 1999 and has undertaken numerous projects, especially securing the involvement of students and faculty of the Grady School of Journalism and Historic Preservation classes under James Reap. Four of the five officers of “Friends” are UGA alums and eight of the 12 members of the current Board of Directors are University graduates.

Oconee Hill Cemetery is nationally recognized as one of the most outstanding examples in the nation according to their web site.  Augustus Longstreet Hull in his “Annals of Athens” declared in 1906: “This is one of the most beautiful spots, adorned by nature with forest trees, with vines covering hillsides, clinging to rocks and climbing the sombre pines, while at the foot of the hills the Oconee murmurs between backs redolent with honeysuckle and jassamine.”

Since the cemetery opened, many graves have been moved from the Old Athens Cemetery on Jackson Street, abandoned family plots and church cemeteries through the years.

For additional information, call the cemetery or visit http://oconeehillcemetery.com/.

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