Two Centuries of Hallowed Ground
The Story of Murfreesborough as Told in the Old City Cemetery

On-Line Exhibition Archive
September 13-November 29, 2003

A Temporary Exhibit in cooperation among the Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center, Middle Tennessee State University, and the City of Murfreesboro

Exhibit Curators: Kevin E. Smith (Department of Sociology and Anthropology) and Michele Lawson (Department of History)

These pages are an archive of the on-line catalog of the museum exhibit Two Centuries of Hallowed Ground, held from September 13 through November 29, 2003 at the Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center, 415 South Academy Street, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.


This exhibit presents the results of historical and archaeological research on the original First Presbyterian Church building (A.D. 1820-1863) and the Old City Cemetery conducted from December 2002 -September 2003 by students, staff, and faculty from Middle Tennessee State University. From June 2- July 3, students enrolled in Archaeological Field School conducted a “dig” at the site of the first church building of the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Murfreesborough.

This course of instruction provides university students with hands-on training and experience in professional archaeological research. In the class, they learn basic field techniques used by archaeologists around the world to investigate sites of the ancient and recent past. In order to make the results of the training more meaningful, we elected to investigate an archaeological site of significance to the history of the community in which MTSU resides. While there are many significant places, events, and people in the history of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, few spots on the landscape capture so much of the flavor of that history as the Old City Cemetery between Vine and State Streets.

Our primary goal was to physically locate the remains of the original First Presbyterian Church building, to document as much of it as possible within our five-week course, and to gather sufficient evidence to nominate the remains of the building and the surrounding cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places. Secondary goals were to provide Murfreesboro citizens with an opportunity to visit an archaeological “dig” – and learn that archaeology is not only about desert pyramids or lost jungle cities, but also that there are things to be learned about our own communities and histories through careful archaeological research “just down the road.”

Guide to the Exhibit

The exhibit was presented in six panels and three cases:

Intertwined Histories: The Founding of Murfreesborough, the Church and Bradley Academy. The histories of the First Presbyterian Church, the city of Murfreesborough, and the Bradley Academy are intricately intertwined – all three were created within a few months of each other, and involved many joint efforts.

Murfreesborough as State Capitol of Tennessee. From 1818-26, Murfreesborough served as the capital of Tennessee. During this short period, many monumental changes took place – nearly ¼ of the modern counties of Tennessee were formed, and the state saw a transformation from frontier society to settled growth and expansion during this brief period.

The Church as Capital Building in 1822. In 1822, the Rutherford County Courthouse burned and the State Legislature met in the new First Presbyterian Church building which was renovated for this meeting of the legislature. Peoples and events during this legislative session are highlighted – including the nomination of Andrew Jackson for President and later activities of several members of the 1822 state legislature with local and national significance.

Founding of the Old City Cemetery. The Old City Cemetery is one of Murfreesboro’s greatest resources for early history – this panel provides information on the origins and expansion of this cemetery.

The Church and Murfreesborough in the Civil War. The Civil War greatly impacted the freedoms of all Middle Tennessee citizens. The early occupation by federal forces, the use of public buildings as hospitals, warehouses, headquarters, the stealing of raw materials, and the influx of freed slaves changed the face of Murfreesborough forever.

Aftermaths of War: Building a New Murfreesboro. Neither the Emancipation Proclamation nor the end of the war provided solutions to the societal issues created by centuries of slavery. The citizens of Murfreesborough – white and black, rich and poor – were faced with challenges to find new paths to the future.

Two exhibit cases focused on the results of the 2003 archaeology project at the church site – including information on how archaeology is conducted, what was found, and what we think it means.

Archaeological Finds In Summer 2003.

The Return to Hallowed Ground. The final case of the exhibit focuses on the current importance of the Old City Cemetery to citizens of Murfreesboro – and why this significant resource should be preserved and protected for future generations.

The astute observer will also note several themes that run throughout the panels and cases in the exhibit – watch especially for many appearances of the original First Presbyterian Church on East Vine Street, Bradley Academy, James K. Polk, Issues of Slavery and Freedom, and particularly why we need to protect and preserve the historic buildings and archaeological sites in Murfreesboro and elsewhere.

Exhibit Sponsors: Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center; Middle Tennessee Anthropology Society; Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area; Murfreesboro Department of Parks/Recreation; Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Acknowledgements: This exhibit would not have been possible without the hard work of undergraduate students from several departments at Middle Tennessee State University. Special thanks go to two students – Chris Hogan and Bruce Burton-- who contributed in all three phases of this project from the field to the laboratory analysis and finally in developing and installing this exhibit. The student field crew consisted of Crystal Akers, Emily Beahm, Lauren Bowers, Jennifer Brown, Bobbi Chahi, Hilary Daugherty, Rachel Douglas, Brandi Gartman, Hannah Guidry, Amy Hopkins, Janine Hunter, Sarah Lacy, Stan Lacy, Robert Pressnell, Amanda Richardson, and Christopher Simpson. Student volunteers in the lab included Crystal Akers, Dan Brock, Bruce Burton, Bobbi Chahi, Hannah Guidry, Chris Hogan, Janine Hunter, Robert Pressnell, and Amanda Richardson. Rachel Douglas also volunteered considerable time in preparing and installing this exhibit. Special thanks also go to Caneta Hankins and C. Van West (Center for Historic Preservation), Professor Lorne McWatters (Department of History), Georgia Dennis, Dennis Rainier (Director, Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation), John Lodl (Director, Bradley Academy Museum) and the members of the Rutherford County Historical Society.

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