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How Oakwood Cemetery Came About

Written by an Oakwood Committee Member after 2005. 

 

Oakwood cemetery is situated on land originally in a grant made to Isaac Lollar on Certificate No. 25, by the Board of Land Commissioners of the County of Bastrop, Republic of Texas, on July 5, 1841.  On August 12, 1844, James C. Hill, a surveyor from Nacogdoches, made a survey for Isaac Lollar of 640 acres of land, on which later the public square was laid out.

 

Smith county, with Tyler, as the county seat, was created by the First Legislature of the State of Texas on April 11, 1846.  On October 2, 1846, Isaac Lollar sold to his brother John Lollar, of Smith County, the 640 acres of land.  On September 22, 1849, John Lollar conveyed to John Madison Patterson 345 acres, it was stipulated that 5 acres in the southwest corner be reserved for a Cemetery.  The cemetery was first called “Lollar’s Cemetery” .

 

Many grave markers have been lost over the years.  The oldest marker now is that of four-year-old P. M. Scott who died in 1852.  As time went on it was known as “City Cemetery”.  No further expansions were made until the late 1930s.  Today the cemetery contains 19.5 acres and has over 2,000 marked graves.

During the War Between the States when several thousand men were in training near Tyler, many of them died from measles, pneumonia, and other diseases.  In order to have a burial place for these boys, the City set aside a plot 300 feet square for the soldiers.  This plot became known as the “Soldiers’ Plot”.  There are 231 Unknown Confederate Soldiers buried in the Soldiers’ Plot.

Besides the 231 Unknown Confederate Soldiers who are buried in the Soldiers’ Plot, there are approximated 80 other marked graves buried in Oakwood, plus veterans from all other wars.  There are a few Union soldiers and sailors buried in the Cemetery.

The Mollie Moore Davis Chapter 217, United Daughters of the Confederacy® was chartered on April 9, 1898, and their minutes state that “after first securing the deed for the Soldiers’ Plot, members of their Chapter began caring for this sacred spot”.  Decoration Day (later to become Memorial Day) was always observed.  Members, their families, and friends met at the Cemetery for a memorial service, and children scattered flowers on all of the soldiers’ graves.

The Mollie Moore Davis Chapter of the UDC saved money and bought the Confederate Monument.  It was unveiled on July 9, 1909.  All records state that it was a gala day in Tyler.  Stores closed, the UDC sponsored a public lunch on the east side of the square.  At 2:00 p.m. the parade to the Cemetery began.  Some 5,000-people gathered in the Cemetery for this important occasion.  Choirs from the churches in Tyler sang, and after the program children dressed in white scattered flowers over the soldiers’ graves.

It is not known when the first Jewish settlers came to Tyler, but in the 1880s there were sufficient numbers to begin holding worship services.  In 1887 the Congregation Beth-El was chartered and shortly after this they bought a large plot in the Cemetery to bury their dead.  This plot is fenced off from the rest of Oakwood, as Jewish custom requires separation of Jewish and non-Jewish graves.

In the 1930s, WPA labor was used to erect the stone fence around Oakwood, and pave the drives.  The strip adjacent to North Palace Avenue was filled and leveled.  For many years this section was used as a Black Cemetery.  In 1997, a marker was erected to mark the graves of approximately 100 Blacks, the majority of which were probably slaves.

In 1997, the Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Committee, made up of members of the Mollie Moore Davis Chapter 217, United Daughters of the Confederacy®, plus interested citizens of Tyler, was formed and began working to restore Oakwood Cemetery.  The Mayor of Tyler turned the Committee into a City Committee, and the Committee has worked with the Tyler Parks Department since that time, meeting every month.  The City started a Perpetual Care Trust Fund for the Cemetery.  Since 1997, a new fence has been put up along the railroad track, new gates (donated by Rodeick Metal Service, Inc.), all drives have been resurfaced, an irrigation system has been installed, flower beds installed, a new Oakwood sign has been put up by the gate on Palace Avenue, a new flag pole with lighting has been installed, and 36 new trees have been planted.  And Oakwood Cemetery has been designated a Historic Texas Cemetery by the Texas Historical Commission in Austin with plaques being installed at all entrances to the Cemetery.

There are hundreds of broken markers in the Cemetery, and the City of Tyler cannot make repairs to them because they are on Private plots with the Cemetery.  The Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Committee can repair them, so the Committee presents the “spirits of Oakwood”, a walking history tour through the Cemetery, every year in order to raise money for all the repairs to the markers.