Ruth Cofer Cemetery is located in Chattanooga, TN off I-75 North. It sits behind the US Express Corporate office on Lee Highway at Jenkins Rd.
Cofer Memorial Cemetery" was so named by the County Council of Hamilton County
(now the Hamilton County Commission) in a Resolution passed October 2, 1974. It
is the official name; it was changed from its former official name "Hamilton
County Memorial Park." "Potters' Field" is a name that seems to crop up in the
newspapers over the years, and is a common name for such cemeteries in cities
around America. The Resolution is a public document in Hamilton County
Commission files. The best information on the matter is the "clippings file" at
the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Bicentennial Library, under "Cemeteries" (or
perhaps they have a specific file for the "Ruth Cofer Memorial Cemetery" but
it's been a while since I copied all the articles dealing with this cemetery).
The Cofer cemetery was officially opened July 1, 1933, by rule of County Judge Will Cummings (of Cummings Highway). The first appointed official to handle the transportation and burial of the dead there was assigned to a man named Cyrus Russell Brown. He was also, "...the assistant superintendent of the William L. Bork Memorial hospital, county transfer agent for persons of unsound mind and indigent persons, server of warrants in lunacy cases, and driver of the county ambulance on emergency calls" (Chattanooga Times, April 1, 1934, page 13). The County was forced into the burial business because of the Great Depression because the then-contractor had to go up on price (raised from $25 a burial!). Burials may have actually begun when the County acquired the Cofer hillside in '27, but it was not the official "potters field" yet.
Here is quick time line I've reconstructed from the clippings file, beginning with the Chattanooga Times May 25, 1911, article on the poor conditions (exposed human remains) at the old "pauper's cemetery," which was located in "Hill City," now known to everyone as North Chattanooga. This prompted action to do something, including grand jury indictments against the sexton, J.C. Hale, who died with the indictments looming over him, but as you can see, nothing was done until 1933. It was most of a bumpy day's wagon ride to get out to the old cemetery in Hill City and back again.
5-25-1911 - Grand jury visits potters field and finds exposed graves and
bones lying around on ground surface.
7-1-1912 - Recommendation to abandon Hill City cemetery (as an indigent
1-1-1927 - County takes over a Silverdale parcel of land (nothing
7-1-1933 - Official opening of "Hamilton County Memorial Park" (Cofer
4-1-1934 - The cemetery had 212 recorded burials at "Silverdale"
9-1-1935 - Over 500 burials at "Silverdale" recorded since it's inception
1949 - TN state mandates bodies to go to Memphis medical school, unless "unfit" for such purpose (decomposed, etc.); number of burials at Cofer drops off drastically.
6-30-1959 - Reports approx. 300 burials; the reported number drops from the 1935 article either because of miscounting, or more likely, headstones had become lost. This article also states Chattanooga's earliest "potter's field" is believed to have been in the ravine below the "Pine Breeze Sanatorium," now razed, just to the south of Chattanooga High School (now Chattanooga liberal arts magnet school). It states that there are some "...rusty iron markers still stand in the underbrush-choked ravine below the sanatorium to mark the existence of the unremembered hundreds who are buried there." Hundreds...? Do you have a house there now?
12-11-1965 - County still using "Hamilton County Memorial Park" (Cofer) but not as much due to the medical school mandate. This article states the earliest potter's field was located "...behind Pine Breeze Sanatorium, on a hillside off Midvale Avenue adjoining a tract of land owned by Attorney William A. Schoolfield, the father of County Councilman Raulston Schoolfield
and William B. Schoolfield of Chattanooga." Still no word on where an earlier "potters field" was before this Hill City potters field.
11-10-74 - County Judge Don Moore visits the "Hamilton County Memorial Park" (Cofer) at the urging of Ruth Cofer, and was "dismayed" at it's condition; sets wheels in motion to repair and rename. Silverdale gets a make over and name change. Ms. Cofer was head of the Women's Auxiliary at the nearby Hamilton County Nursing Home (now Health Center at Standifer Place).
Present-day - still in use as indigent burial location.
The area out there with the very small, numbered-only stones are the children victims of an early 1900's plague that swept the city. Some of these stones have become removed (presumably due to vandalism) over the years, and someone has lined all the loose ones on the ground into the shape of a cross. Not a bad idea since their original locations are lost.
Cyrus Brown and
the William L. Bork Memorial hospital, seen on the USGS map, have something to
do with all this. It is my belief that unclaimed people from that hospital (and
the Silverdale workhouse) most likely occupy the "unknown" and/or unmarked
graves at Cofer cemetery. In researching this, I asked Ray Wilson at Ham. County
Microfilm to be on the lookout for any documents, old or new, dealing with that
old hospital. Thanks be to Ray, for he discovered the hand-written ledger of
the names of the people who were put into the hospital (not the jail). This
large book was almost thrown out in purging some records, but Ray saved it from
destruction and has even microfilmed it so we all have a second copy. I believe
some of the people in that book are buried at Cofer. The patient's name never made it out to the cemetery with the body but rather was logged at the hospital and with the courthouse, but those records seem to be lost. But the original Bork hospital entry ledger is safe, even listing the condition for which the person was admitted. In the attached document I explain the process of how to receive a "county burial" and what one gets with that. My beef is that funeral homes make the decision about a family's "need," and forwards their recommendation to the Department of Corrections for the burial, which I do not think is scrutinized enough by (most) funeral homes. The County should have a final say in eligibility for a burial at county expense. After all, the County has not relinquished its "burial business" since it was forced into it by the Great Depression.
Tom Bodkin, MA,
Hamilton County Medical Examiner Office
Adjunct Faculty, UT Chattanooga, Anthropology
Names of individuals in this cemetery were recorded as they appeared on the tombstones. No attempt was made to correct obvious errors or differences in spelling. Every attempt has been made to record this information correctly. However, mistakes are possible. The information on this page may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by any other person or organization without the written consent of the contributor, the legal representative of the submitter, or The Hamilton County Tennessee Genealogy Society.
|Barnes, William L||07/04/1905||01/16/1991|
|Berry, Walter E||10/24/1903||02/13/1984|
|Bledsoe, Virgil||00/00/1924||07/24/1999||from obit:sons-Claude Pitts & Thomas Terry;dau-Alma Lawrence Cooley;bro-John W & George J Bledsoe;|
|Boaz, Walter, Jr||11/19/1922||09/19/1983|
|Boggs, Betty Louise||03/13/1925||02/18/1987|
|Bowman, Carl E||06/15/1928||03/18/1988|
|Chappell, Robert L||12/02/1939||12/06/1981|
|Crutch, James L||05/25/1927||09/12/1991|
|Davis, Martha Jo||01/25/1962||12/10/1991|
|Dunn, Rae Jean||02/16/1938||10/12/1983|
|Gill, James Edwin "Dr Catfish"||12/30/1936||12/29/1984|
|Hixon, Charles McKenly||03/21/1925||12/06/1986|
|House, James E||01/01/1934||11/05/1983|
|Ivey, Ben, Sr||09/09/1909||04/25/1984|
|Jackson, J C||09/15/1905||03/16/1982|
|Johnson, ??||00/12/1899||00/15/1984||first part of marker broken off|
|Jones, Lena F||11/21/1914||06/14/1985|
|Kyle, Callie?||01/12/1913||07/22/1991||first part of marker missing, not sure of first name.|
|Lay, Vasco Norman||02/03/1916||09/21/1985|
|Lovell, Susan E||07/16/1965||04/26/1985|
|Maclin, ??||07/22/1933||03/23/1992||marker partially buried|
|Mathely, Carl, Jr||01/16/1923||01/24/1986||"Father"|
|McCullough, Lige A||07/04/1898||01/20/1984|
|McGraw, Eloise H||10/16/1920||07/12/1996|
|Moore, Edna Marie||08/28/1910||04/23/1982|
|Morel, Wilma G||03/17/1940||07/23/1997|
|Nelson, Mildred V||02/14/1927||09/21/1980|
|Noel, Barbara Jean||10/30/1998|
|Roberson, Johnny T||07/06/1936||09/25/1999|
|Roden, Melvin F||04/29/1939||11/19/1988|
|Rogers, Robert L||09/08/1919||07/16/1987|
|Sims, Dallas C||04/12/1935||03/22/1990|
|Sims, Lonnie Joe||12/20/1946||07/14/1982|
|Skyles, Shirley A||01/25/1939||08/07/1992|
|Smith, Jane Ethel||06/10/1894||07/28/1981|
|Smith, Jessie L||04/29/1985|
|Smith, Joseph C||12/20/1924||12/12/1991|
|Smith, Lula Mae||08/15/1954||05/17/1992||"Mother of Bobbie"|
|Smith, Sandra F||12/19/1937||12/07/1996|
|Stiles, Admiral D||05/02/1900||06/03/1991|
|Stover, Mary N||05/28/1954||11/25/1987|
|Tilson, Ronald Wayne||11/01/1947||05/06/1987|
|Traylor, Elmer, Jr||01/29/1931||09/15/1981|
|Trigger, John Thomas||08/30/1999|
|Turner, ??||00/09/1901||00/15/1987||Half of marker broken|
|Turner, Joseph Henry||03/05/1934||10/28/1980||Lcpl USMC Korea|
|Williams, Freddie P||00/00/1933||10/18/1982|
|Williams, James, Jr||03/21/1943||09/20/1984|
|Wilson, Thomas D||05/24/1908||02/16/1988|
|Wooden, Jimmy D||01/16/1950||05/04/1998|
|Woods, Caesar Ezell||05/10/1960||01/19/1992|