The Neglect Of The Longview, Crestview and Southern Chain Cemeteries Of Knoxville, TN


Crestview, Southern Chain and Longview cemeteries are located in West Knoxville on a hillside that displays a breathtaking view. The array of graveyards sprang up from a plot belonging to the family of William Bradley who was buried there in 1910. The Southern Chain Lodge purchased several acres of plot from the Bradley family in 1898, at which time “secret societies” and fraternal organizations offered their members various types of insurance plans.

The Hall Town Cemetery established in 1910 was restricted to Odd Fellows members and their family. Around 1922, the cemetery was renamed Crestview, at which time it became available to the general public. Crestview is Knoxville’s largest African-American cemetery, according to Knox Heritage.

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In 1915, the Lillison Mortuary, established by former law enforcement officer and educator William Lillison, created Longview Cemetery with its first burial. Lillison was laid to rest in Longview on April 17, 1931.

The Southern Chain Cemetery is still reserved for members of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. The three cemeteries have approximately 15,000 recorded graves and an unknown number of unrecorded graves. The hillside is the resting place of prominent attorneys, Republican politician, Charles W. Cansler, teachers, barbers, blues singer, Ida Cox, shopkeepers, housewives, gardeners, businessmen and cooks. In 1960, plots were sold at $85 each.

Dr. Garfield Mills, son-in-law of William Lillison, was the primary caretaker of the three cemeteries for many years. Upon his death in 1968, the cemeteries became victim to their owners who exploited funds that were specifically intended for maintenance purposes. Less than 10 years later, the cemeteries had deteriorated beyond belief.

Current owner of the property, the State Department of Commerce and Insurance, turned the cemeteries over to the West View Community Group.

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Unfortunate for those people buried on the hillside, the West View Community Action Group, Knoxville politicians, Knox County Sheriff’s Department, community members and others, have done very little as far as maintenance goes. The cemeteries, other than Crestview, are overgrown with briars, weeds and brush. While some family members have worked tirelessly to care for their loved ones’ graves, the rest of the hillside is in deplorable condition.

Along with overturned and broken tombstones, the cemeteries are littered with trash, furniture, tires and appliances. The video provided by displays the negligence of those responsible for the upkeep of the hillside. The negligent is also a display of disrespect for the people buried there.

A few attempts have been made to clean up the cemeteries. Those attempts have been futile. At one point in 2011, county inmates were forced to help with the cleanup. In May of 2016, it was announced that the West View cemeteries would get new signs. Those signs do little to help and instead just attempt to disguise the underlying problem.

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It is a problem that is difficult to ignore. One can only imagine how terrible it must be for the families of people laid to rest at these cemeteries. How hopeless and frustrating must it be to continually fight against a community that intends to tarnish and ransack your loved one’s resting place? Is it truly a resting place when the surrounding world is full of chaos, trash, and rubbish?

Like so many other areas in Knoxville, the West View cemeteries are areas that most would prefer to ignore and avoid. With homeless residing under the nearby underpasses, it isn’t hard to find a blemish or two in the Volunteer city.

December 25, 2017 |

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