Violet Cemetery is a historical burial site located in Osceola (Mississippi County). Situated near the heart of downtown, the cemetery is bounded on the front and south by Johnson Avenue, on the rear and north by West Semmes Avenue, on the west by Pecan Street, and on the east by private property. The cemetery’s location was originally an isolated burial ground in Mississippi County known as God’s Acre. However, as Osceola expanded from a small river town into a larger agricultural community, the cemetery became part of the Townsite Addition of Osceola.
The earliest marked grave within the cemetery is from 1831, which predates the formation of Mississippi County (November 1, 1833) as well as Arkansas statehood (1836). The list of those buried within its grounds includes early settlers and developers of the area, civic leaders, flood victims, and war veterans. The cemetery also contains a collection of funerary art from the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Its historical significance was recognized on October 6, 2004, when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
From its beginning, the cemetery’s maintenance was the responsibility of those who had relatives interred there. However, by the early 1900s, the cemetery—known then as the “Osceola Graveyard”—had become unkempt and neglected as the majority of descendants had either died or moved away. Its deterioration prompted a group of local women to form a cemetery association, with monthly dues of twenty-five cents per member. Led by Mary Elizabeth Driver as its first president, the women proceeded to reset tombstones, hauling in some 100 loads of dirt for the task. The association also constructed fences on the northern and eastern sides, planted shrubbery, and provided for groundskeeping. The group also laid out sidewalks with cypress curbing and hitching posts.
By the association’s fifth year, members began planting violets on every grave, leading to the burial ground becoming known as Violet Cemetery. As one of Osceola’s most popular civic organizations, the association maintained the cemetery for over forty years until the City of Osceola took over the cemetery’s care.
Violet Cemetery contains 634 marked graves and approximately sixty-five unmarked graves. Family names on the markers are a compendium of individuals who developed the area, including Dr. Henry Clay Dunnivant, a local doctor who served in the Confederate army; William J. Driver, a congressman who sponsored legislation in 1939 to control the Mississippi River; and Thomas Craighead, after whom Craighead County was named. Also buried in Violet Cemetery are veterans from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Former mayors of Osceola, sheriffs, state legislators, the founder of the Osceola Times, doctors, lawyers, judges, and teachers are among the many former citizens buried there.
In recent years, city employees and community service workers have continued to clear overgrown vegetation, remove trees, and unearth buried markers. McHaney Monuments of Blytheville (Mississippi County) donated a new Violet Cemetery marker at its entrance, and a cemetery directory, sponsored by Wilbur Wildy and his wife, was compiled by Brian and Amy King of Harrisburg (Poinsett County) in 1998. The directory also includes a history of Violet Cemetery, compiled by Dr. Eldon Fairley, a local civic leader who spearheaded much of the historical preservation efforts within the county.
For additional information:
“Violet Cemetery.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/!userfiles/MS0148.nr.pdf (accessed October 14, 2021).
Toney Butler Schlesinger
Granite Bay, California
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