Pleasant Hill Church: many of my ancestors are buried in its cemetery. (Photographed by Elizabeth O’Neal, May 1995)
My father’s parents came to California from Tennessee, specifically, Greeneville, in Greene County, Tennessee.
About Greene County
Located at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Greene County is found in the Eastern part of Tennessee, and is named in honor of Revolutionary War hero Major General Nathanael Greene. It was organized from Washington County, Tennessee, in 1783, with Greeneville as the county seat.
Greene County is ranked the 6th largest county in the state, and covers 624 square miles with an average elevation of 1,320 feet above sea level. Of this, more than 230,000 acres are under cultivation by Greene County’s nearly 3,400 farm families.
Davy Crockett (Col. David Stern Crockett) was born in Greene County on August 17, 1786. You probably know him as the “King of the Wild Frontier,” but he also had quite a political career, and represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Col. Crockett died at the historic Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.
President Andrew Johnson used to make his home in Greenville. “Old Hickory,” as he was known, became the 17th President of the United States after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. His former home and tailor shop are open to the public.
My Visit to Greene County
My father, my aunt (Dad’s sister), and I took a trip to see the “ancestral home” of Greeneville over Memorial Day weekend in 1995. My aunt was the person who got me interested in genealogy back in 1987, and she had been researching our family for about a decade before that. So it was fitting that we should make this trip together.
My father and I met at the airport in Knoxville; he flew in from Massachusetts, and I from San Diego. The first thing I noticed was the HUMIDITY. It was like a wall of steam hitting me in the lungs! Being a California desert girl, this came as quite a shock.
Once my aunt arrived from Washington, we were able to really get the show on the road. The next day, we took the scenic route from Knoxville to Greeneville via the Great Smoky Mountains and a teensy corner of North Carolina. Having never been in this part of the country before, I enjoyed the drive very much.
The “Olde Greene County Gaol” (jail), built in 1882 by Turner and Lane.
(Photographed by Elizabeth O’Neal, May 1995 )
While in Greeneville, we experienced as much of the “local color” as possible. My favorite was the way the waitresses would always ask, “Would you like grits with that?” Grits aren’t a staple of the typical California diet, so this was an unusual question to me. I really didn’t want grits with anything, and I still don’t.
(Oddly enough, my husband loves grits. But then, he’s a “southerner,” having lived in both Carolinas, as well as Florida, growing up.)
I was also struck by how aptly named Greeneville was: everything was so green! After a few days, I started wondering why on earth my grandparents ever left Greeneville for California. I mean, I know why they really left (I think), and it had nothing to do with the landscape, but still… Los Angeles must have been quite a change for them.
Tusculum College, founded in 1794, is Tennessee’s oldest college.
(Photographed by Elizabeth O’Neal, May 1995 )
We stopped for a short visit at Tusculum College, admiring the beautiful stone arch at the entry. In my grandfather’s younger days, he wanted to become a teacher, and had dreams of attending Tusculum. Life got in the way, and this didn’t happen; however, he did raise two children who became teachers, and two of his grandchildren also became teachers. It seems that teaching runs in the family.
The three of us trekked through as many cemeteries as possible, visiting the known graves of ancestors, and discovering a few new ones. We hit cemetery “pay dirt” at the Pleasant Hill Cemetery, finding lots of family graves to photograph and record. Unfortunately, we had a big missed opportunity, because at the time, we didn’t know that the burial location of our Revolutionary War ancestor Leroy Taylor was just down the road in Leesburg (the town named for him – DUH!).
Greeneville’s most historic cemetery, the Old Harmony Graveyard, was established in 1791. Many of Greeneville’s most famous residents are buried there. Although none are/were related to me, we did check it out, just the same.
I really loved visiting Greeneville, Tennessee. The landscape was lush and green, and the people were warm and friendly.
I hope to make it back again soon, especially now that I’m armed with even more genealogical information!
More About Greene County, Tennessee: