If you drive west on Central Avenue towards the Memphis Pink Palace Museum, you may notice a small cemetery at the corner of Central and Lafayette Street immediately before you see the museum’s fence. This graveyard was in use well before Clarence Saunders bought the land for his palace.
In the 1870s, this area was outside of the city limits of Memphis and known as the Ridgehigh section of Buntyn’s Station, a railroad stop on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Buntyn’s Station was a large area of land that stretched east to west from Highland Street to Buntyn Street and north to south from Central Avenue to Park Avenue. Farmers who settled near Central Avenue and Buntyn Street began to call the area Ridgehigh. Buntyn’s Station was a town in its own right, and Ridgehigh was the town’s farthest settlement. The center of this neighborhood became Ridgehigh Baptist Church at the corner of Central and Buntyn. James Prescott, a Civil War veteran, donated the land for the church as well as a small parcel down the street for a cemetery. The earliest identifiable headstone dates from 1877 and marks the burial of William Lee Lowery, an eight-year-old boy. The church burned in 1926, moved several times, and eventually moved east and renamed itself Ridgeway Baptist Church. The last Baptist burial in the cemetery occurred in 1936. In the early 1940s, the cemetery’s administrators considered moving the bodies to Memorial Park, the newly established cemetery in East Memphis. However, the law required that the overseers must contact all of the descendants of the deceased before moving graves. When the owners abandoned the plan, the cemetery fell into disrepair.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, located at the corner of Central and Greer, bought the cemetery in December 1979 for $10,000. The congregation put in a small road, built a brick and wrought iron fence, put a gate on Lafayette, and installed underground crypts. They also constructed a gazebo and cleaned and re-set the gravestones that were already there. The cemetery now serves as the final resting place for some of the congregation’s members as well as a few Civil War veterans.
Information for this post came from the cultural resources survey of the Joffre neighborhood and an article from the November 25, 1980, edition of The Memphis Press-Scimitar.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.