Ruth Cofer
Cemetery

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.

The "Ruth 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
burial place)

1-1-1927 - County takes over a Silverdale parcel of land (nothing
officially happens)

7-1-1933 - Official opening of "Hamilton County Memorial Park" (Cofer
cemetery)

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 at least
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, F-AAFS
Forensic Anthropologist
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.

 

 
DECEASED BORN DIED NOTES
Anderson, Robert 00/00/1931 09/27/1999  
Armour, Emily 05/31/1922 06/22/1990  
Atwood, Betty 11/22/1922 09/13/1987  
Barber, James 02/22/1927 10/31/1987  
Barefield, Barbara 08/05/1937 04/24/1985  
Barnes, William L 07/04/1905 01/16/1991  
Barton, Fred 02/22/1910 06/26/1981  
Bennett, Curtis 06/27/1955 08/17/1984  
Berry, Walter E 10/24/1903 02/13/1984  
Bledsoe, Sarah 09/29/1904 01/14/1987  
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  
Bolt, Fowler   04/26/1985  
Bowman, Carl E 06/15/1928 03/18/1988  
Bradford, Kathirene 07/19/1932 08/17/1988  
Bridgeman, Lawrence 01/01/1910 04/07/1988  
Brown, Sterling 06/04/1914 03/13/1985  
Burt, Mark 07/20/1961 05/07/1986 "Husband/Father"
Cagle, Chester 09/07/1923 06/29/1985  
Carry, James 01/28/1913 06/11/1991  
Chappell, Robert L 12/02/1939 12/06/1981  
Chatman, Beverly   04/00/1998  
Clark, Mable 04/14/1894 06/04/1986  
Cochran, Jerry 01/20/1944 08/27/1999  
Cook, Eli 10/27/1899 05/30/1991  
Crutch, James L 05/25/1927 09/12/1991  
Culver, Flora 07/00/1915 08/02/1983  
Davis, Martha Jo 01/25/1962 12/10/1991  
Dempsey, Vincent 08/19/1950 02/11/1986  
Dunn, Rae Jean 02/16/1938 10/12/1983  
Edge, Forrest 11/14/1911 05/04/1982  
Farmer, Jasper 06/21/1970 04/08/1991  
Forrest, Frank      
France, Earlene 03/10/1953 01/25/1990  
Fuller, Hazel 10/30/1896 10/31/1988  
Galloway, Chatwill 03/30/1946 07/26/1996  
Gampert, Matilda 06/17/1904 11/24/1988  
Garrison, Erma 08/16/1898 09/15/1984  
Gibson, Adrians 04/30/1997 04/30/1997  
Gilbert, Walter 01/15/1909 06/21/1986  
Gilcrest, George 12/20/1909 10/18/1990  
Gill, James Edwin "Dr Catfish" 12/30/1936 12/29/1984  
Goins, Paul   10/21/1980  
Green, Thomas   09/06/1998  
Grider, Marlon 05/27/1926 11/13/1984  
Griffin, Mary 09/14/1927 03/07/1987  
Grison, Annie 12/27/1905 09/30/1988  
Guerney, Willard 10/29/1905 07/04/1984  
Harmon, Norman 02/24/1893 10/31/1982  
Harrington, John   00/00/1999  
Hatten, Susie 04/05/1898 06/11/1991  
Henry, Kathryn 12/22/1890 05/21/1984  
Hixon, Charles McKenly 03/21/1925 12/06/1986  
Holley, Grace   10/28/1981  
Houghan, Faye 01/01/1917 07/21/1982  
House, James E 01/01/1934 11/05/1983  
Hutcheson, Janice 04/11/1901 08/11/1988  
Hutchinson, Rufus 05/22/1919 07/09/1988  
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  
Jones, Willie 01/31/1909 09/24/1988  
Kelley, James 02/28/1901 07/06/1990  
Kennebrew, Annie 09/06/1911 07/06/1983  
Kennedy, Roosevelt   10/05/1998  
Kyle, Callie? 01/12/1913 07/22/1991 first part of marker missing, not sure of first name.
Lane, Herman 06/15/1935 01/12/1990  
Lay, Vasco Norman 02/03/1916 09/21/1985  
Longmire, Willie 07/13/1913 07/16/1988  
Lovell, Susan E 07/16/1965 04/26/1985  
Lynch, Daisy 09/30/1897 02/18/1983  
Maclin, ?? 07/22/1933 03/23/1992 marker partially buried
Mastin, George 03/09/1953 04/27/1997  
Mathely, Carl, Jr 01/16/1923 01/24/1986 "Father"
Mayer, Robert 08/14/1961 03/22/1986  
McConnel, Irene 07/04/1916 09/17/1988  
McCullough, Lige A 07/04/1898 01/20/1984  
McFerrin, James 07/04/1915 03/04/1987  
McGraw, Eloise H 10/16/1920 07/12/1996  
McJunkin, James 03/09/1910 09/10/1985  
McKinly, Jack 06/22/1936 04/27/1987  
McKinney, Willie 04/02/1919 03/18/1985  
McNeil, Gabriel 08/14/1910 06/16/1991  
Mitchell, Pearl 06/24/1903 02/27/1985  
Monroe, Sarah 03/02/1902 07/07/1990  
Moore, Edna Marie 08/28/1910 04/23/1982  
Morel, Wilma G 03/17/1940 07/23/1997  
Moss, Virginia 01/07/1907 11/24/1983  
Mount, Ruby 11/22/1910 06/09/1990  
Muelhoefer, Ursula 04/12/1924 12/26/1985  
Neal, Ernest 10/25/1927 07/18/1988  
Nelson, Mildred V 02/14/1927 09/21/1980  
Nicholson, Delores 10/31/1963 04/25/1991  
Noel, Barbara Jean   10/30/1998  
Owen, Claybon 12/10/1947 12/24/1986  
Pencil, Willie   10/08/1999  
Penson, Bessie 11/07/1927 01/08/1997  
Pilcher, Charles 10/10/1920    
Postell, Joseph 12/10/1942 07/28/1996  
Pruitt, Marvin 04/05/1905 11/22/1985  
Roberson, Johnny T 07/06/1936 09/25/1999  
Robinson, Alsie 03/27/1919 01/21/1990  
Robinson, Raymond 11/12/1941 03/13/1988  
Robinson, Willie 00/00/1903 10/14/1982  
Roden, Melvin F 04/29/1939 11/19/1988  
Rogers, Robert L 09/08/1919 07/16/1987  
Russell, Rachell 02/09/1988 05/15/1988  
Scruggs, Eugene 01/01/1905 04/04/1987  
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  
Snyder, Annie 04/20/1914 03/08/1982  
Springs, Alice 07/17/1923 08/22/1984  
Stafford, Margie 03/11/1964 01/23/1990  
Stargel, Clinton 01/01/1910 08/18/1987  
Stiles, Admiral D 05/02/1900 06/03/1991  
Stover, Mary N 05/28/1954 11/25/1987  
Stubbs, Irene 08/06/1928 07/30/1988  
Taylor, Legatha 08/01/1919 10/11/1990  
Thomas, Alice 00/00/1898 08/26/1999  
Thomas, Delaney 09/07/1948 07/23/1996  
Thompson, Marie 11/27/1916 11/23/1988  
Thompson, Paul   12/00/1980  
Tilson, Ronald Wayne 11/01/1947 05/06/1987  
Townsend, Grace 07/01/1893 01/22/1987  
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
Vickers, Gordon      
Vinyard, Lee 10/04/1918 01/19/1986  
Walker, Viola 09/11/1917 12/27/1985  
Ware, James 03/27/1936 00/08/1992  
Westbrook, Doris 02/04/1924 07/01/1988  
Wheat, James 06/17/1946 08/01/1997  
Whitaker, Obie   04/09/1999  
White, Cecil 05/07/1952 01/02/1997  
White, William 04/29/1907 06/19/1987  
Williams, Freddie P 00/00/1933 10/18/1982  
Williams, Hattie 03/21/1905 09/23/1990  
Williams, James 01/22/1911 02/25/1982  
Williams, James, Jr 03/21/1943 09/20/1984  
Wilson, Duey 01/29/1911 08/10/1984  
Wilson, Ernest 05/08/1910 06/10/1984  
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  
Woods, Carl 03/17/1962 12/13/1987