Established in 1851 and expanded for the first time around 1900, the Rockport Cemetery is the oldest burial ground in the Hot Spring County town of Rockport. The oldest sections of the cemetery were added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 28, 2002.
The first settlers in the Rockport area arrived by the 1820s. A post office serving the community opened in 1837, and the settlement became the county seat in 1846. Never a large town, the community did have several churches, stores, and law offices by 1850. Some sources report that land for the establishment of a cemetery was given by John A. Miller in 1851. This is unlikely, as Miller was only fifteen years old at the time. It is probable that his father, Nicholas Miller, actually donated the land, as he also donated property for the construction of a church in 1849.
The first recorded burial in the cemetery was on August 11, 1851. Over the following decades, numerous graves were added to the cemetery. Local oral history suggests that a mass grave was created in a corner of the cemetery in the mid-to-late nineteenth century after a mill explosion in the area. Documentation does not exist to support the assertion, although the area where the mass grave is rumored to exist does not include any marked graves, giving some credence to the oral history. The cemetery was expanded around 1900 when Judge John Keith donated a parcel of land. The exact date of the addition is not known, but it contains one grave that dates to 1899 and Keith’s son Dick Keith’s grave, which dates to 1903. At least five more additions have expanded the cemetery but are not included as part of the National Register–listed site.
The cemetery is accessible by a single-lane road that intersects with U.S. Highway 270. At the intersection, a stone and metal gateway stands over the road. The cemetery contains several types and sizes of grave markers. A variety of materials have been used for the construction of the markers in the cemetery, including marble, granite, native stone, and concrete. Only one marker in the cemetery includes a bronze plaque.
Individual family plots are separated by concrete coping. One family plot is surrounded by an iron fence mounted on a stone foundation, and another plot is surrounded by a fence constructed of woven wire. While most of the plots in the cemetery are modest, a few are more elaborate. The grave of fifteen-year-old Dick Keith includes a granite obelisk draped with a cloth atop a pedestal.
In the twenty-first century, new burials in the historic section of the cemetery are limited due to the availability of other plots on the grounds.
For additional information:
Kelley, Shira. “Rockport Cemetery Placed on National Register of Historic Places.” Malvern Daily Record, March 6, 2002. Reprinted in Heritage of Hot Spring County 33 (2006): 17.
“Rockport Cemetery.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/HS0042.nr.pdf (accessed June 13, 2018).
Stanley, Bonnie Dixon. “Rockport Cemetery Information.” Heritage of Hot Spring County 33 (2006): 87.
Henderson State University
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