History of the Cemetery

The cemetery described here is part of the 19th century Old Athens Cemetery, on the University of Georgia's campus.

Many people in the Athens and University of Georgia communities are familiar with the Old Athens Cemetery, commonly referred to today as the Jackson Street Cemetery, because it is located prominently along Jackson Street, between the old Visual Arts building and Baldwin Hall. What many people do not know is that the borders of this burial ground formerly extended much further than the current gated area seen today.

Over the past century, the laying of railroad tracks, widening of Thomas Street, and the construction of the Visual Arts building and Baldwin Hall (1930s) have encroached on the original land of the Old Athens Cemetery, making parts of it visually unrecognizable as a burial ground. Whereas the portion of the cemetery that is outlined today by a stately iron fence is distinguishable as a cemetery from the many stone monoliths and tombstones marking its ~19th c. graves, the portion that has been forgotten over time consisted of unmarked graves, and graves marked by simple, uninscribed “fieldstones,” or possibly wooden markers, which have proved less enduring in the public consciousness.

Map of Old Athens Cemetery (1982)

A map of Old Athens Cemetery in 1982. Baldwin Hall is to the left. The map follows the modern-day fenced-off borders of the cemetery and does not show burials continuing down hill, toward Baldwin Hall. Image: from "Map and Historical Sketch of the Old Athens Cemetery, Jackson Street, Athens, Georgia" by Patricia Irvin Cooper, Glen McAninch (1982)

The Old Athens burial ground was in use from the 1790s until the 1880s or 1890s. Unlike “cemeteries,” burial grounds like Old Athens were public property and burial plots required no fee. Regarding Old Athens Cemetery, Patricia Irvin Cooper and Glen McAnich write in their book Map and Historical Sketch of the Old Athens Cemetery that “The dead of all conditions and races were buried here.”

Oconee Hill Cemetery opened in 1855. Increasingly after that time, burials occurred in Oconee Hill, instead of Old Athens. Possessing considerable charm as a “rural cemetery” that epitomized a new Victorian ideal for urban cemeteries, Oconee Hill was so desirable that numerous people buried in Old Athens were exhumed by their relatives, and moved to new plots purchased Oconee Hill. Dozens of the grave-marking fieldstones were relocated to Oconee Hill over the decades. In 1880, the Brooklyn Cemetery was created to accommodate Athens' growing black population.

Excavation 2015

Archaeologists excavating part of the Old Athens burial ground that had been built upon by Baldwin Hall in the 1930s. To the left/North is the fenced portion of Old Athens Cemetery, and to the right/South is Baldwin Hall. Image: onlineathens.com

In 2015, construction of an addition to Baldwin Hall led to the inadvertent discovery of human remains. Archaeologists spent months carefully excavating these graves so that the individual remains could be reburied in an undisturbed place. Since November 2015, the University of Georgia Department of Anthropology faculty and students have assisted with these efforts. From these formerly unknown, unmarked graves, we have been able to carry forward the memory of these individuals by uncovering and understanding otherwise invisible aspects of their lives.

This website serves as a means for communicating the findings from this research effort. Research is ongoing. Exhibits in this website focus on three topics: (1) Diet and nutrition, (2) Disease and infection, and (3) Activity patterns. Content for the current version of this website was created in December, 2016. Updates will be ongoing in 2017 as additional information from remains excavated in late 2016 are incorporated, and in light of knowledge about genetic ancestry.

Human beings’ skeletal remains provide some of the most important information about the lived experiences of people in the past, being free from historical bias. Please visit the “What is Bioarchaeology?” page for more information about what bioarchaeology contributes to the study of the past.

Painting: View of Athens from Carrs Hill

Georgia artist George Cooke's View of Athens from Carr's  Hill (1845). The University of Georgia is on the horizon, left.

History of the Cemetery