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Sunday, February 19, 2023

An historic Kerrville cemetery hidden in plain sight

The Tivy Mountain Cemetery sign, at
the intersection of Loop 534 and Cypress Creek Road.
Click on any image to enlarge

The Tivy Mountain Cemetery is easy to miss – even by folks who’ve lived in Kerr County their whole lives.

First off, it has a confusing name. The first thing to come to mind for most people are the four graves at the top of Tivy Mountain: those of Joseph Tivy, his wife Ella, and his sister Susan. Susan’s cat is also buried up there, in a grave dug (as the story goes) by none other than Chester A. Nimitz. Those graves can be accessed by foot, climbing up a caliche road off of Tivy Street between Quinlan Creek Drive and Veterans Highway (Loop 534). A state historical marker is near the gated caliche road.

But Captain Tivy and his family (plus the cat) are not buried at Tivy Mountain Cemetery. They’re buried on Tivy Mountain.

The location of the Tivy Mountain Cemetery is just farther down Tivy Street, at the intersection of Tivy Street, Veterans Highway, and Cypress Creek Road – on the northeast corner of the intersection, running along Cypress Creek Road. An old hand-painted sign says “Tivy Mountain Cemetery, Established in 1903.” An ornate (and locked) gate is to the right of the sign.

It’s easy to miss, and I’m sure many folks have driven past it without noticing.

This cemetery is an historically Black cemetery, the resting place of over 200 souls. Most are from Kerr County, though quite a few were patients at the state tuberculosis hospital here.

Looking through the names of those resting there, I recognize quite a few from their descendants I’ve known. There are Fifers, Colemans, Edmonds, Blanks, Bensons, Hardees, McCrays, Mosbys, Neals, Nesbys, and many other last names I probably should be able to remember if my memory was better.

Because of the age of the cemetery, and because it was primarily for Black families, it is the location of the largest number of graves of former slaves in Kerr County. I counted 16 names of people born before the end of the Civil War – meaning most of them could have been born into slavery, though not all of them were slaves here in Kerr County.

Their stories are an important part of Kerr County history.

Jim Thornton
In 1864, during the American Civil War, Kentucky formed the 12th Regiment, Heavy Artillery U.S. Colored Troops, in the Union Army. Those who enlisted were offered emancipation. Among those who enlisted was Charles James “Jim” Thornton (1835-1911). After the war, he eventually found his way to Kerr County, where he married Adeline Joyner in 1871, in the Turtle Creek area of Kerr County. He was a landowner here. He is buried at the Tivy Mountain Cemetery, and among those there, he was the person born earliest (1835). He lived a long life, passing away at the age of 75.

The married couple Isaiah and Lydia Blanks were also born into slavery. Isaiah Blanks was born in Louisiana in 1843, and arrived in Kerr County as a slave owned by Dr. Charles Ganahl, the man who owned almost half of the slaves held in bondage in Kerr County in 1860. The Ganahls lived near present-day Center Point.

After being freed, Isaiah Blanks worked for other families, worked in shingle camps, and later worked in the home of Captain Charles Schreiner for 38 years, and accompanied Schreiner on several trips to the northern and eastern parts of the country. His obituary noted he was able to speak both English and German. He passed away in 1930, at the age of 79.

Lydia Edmonds Blanks and daughters
His wife, Lydia (sometimes spelled Lidia) Edmonds Blanks (1849-1939) was born in Florida, and arrived in Kerr County with the Ridley family, who owned both Lydia and her mother, Nellie Edmonds. The relationship with the Ridleys was complicated: Lydia’s death certificate has “Dr. Ridley” listed as her father. After gaining her freedom, Lydia Blanks worked for many years as a cook in the home of Charles and Lena Schreiner.

Isaiah and Lydia Blanks would have been neighbors to my family’s print shop, as their daughter, Helen Blanks Neal, shared in a 1956 news story that they lived “from 1894 until 1910 [the family] lived in one of Captain Schreiner’s houses where Peterson’s Garage is now located. The St. Charles Hotel was just across [what is Sidney Baker] street. That means the Blanks lived about where the pedestrian bridge connecting the city’s parking building and the city’s clock tower stand today – on the parking building side of the street.

The couple owned a farm on Cherry Creek, near Center Point.

Black employees of the St. Charles Hotel.
I believe Lydia Blanks is on back row, 
far right.
Together Isaiah and Lydia Blanks had twelve children. At the time of Isaiah’s death, they had 46 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Lydia lived for 89 years, and is buried near her husband in the Tivy Mountain Cemetery.

There are so many other stories about the people buried at Tivy Mountain Cemetery. I wish I could write them all here. Stories about Andrew Fifer, who also worked for Captain Schreiner, keeping the grounds of his house in top shape; or Sandy Hamburg, who hauled items in his wagon for people, and who lived to be 100 years old, possibly, because he never knew exactly how old he was. 

Around the time of the Bicentennial celebrations, during the 1975-1976 school year, one of Mrs. Rosa Lavender’s civics classes at Tivy High School took on the Tivy Mountain Cemetery as a project. The class helped mark graves, cut and cleared waist-high grass and brush. They researched the burials registered there, and repaired several of the graves. It was a big project, and they kept a scrapbook of their work.

In the early 2000s, news stories in this newspaper reported the cemetery property was actually owned by the City of Kerrville. At that time, the city maintained the property twice a year. I’m not sure who owns and maintains the cemetery today.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is often surprised by the depth of stories in places he often just drives by without really noticing. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 18, 2023.

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