A open cemetery with headstones and a small church in the background.
Mammoth Cave Baptist Church and Cemetery can be seen along Flint Ridge Road near the park visitor center area.

NPS Photo/ Jackie Wheet

There are over 80 known cemeteries within the boundaries of Mammoth Cave National Park. Some are snugged tightly against historic churches, some are along the roadways, while others are scattered within the forest. No matter their location or current state of upkeep, they all have one unifying trait. Each is the final resting place of those who once lived within the park and their presence still matters to not only family descendants but to researchers as well.

A black and white photo of a cemetery beginning to be overgrow by vegetation.
A cemetery in the park begins to be overgrown by vegetation, July 1, 1937.

NPS Photo

Becoming a National Park

When residents were removed from their land for Mammoth Cave to become a national park, they were paid fair market value for their properties. Included in these land acquisitions were not only houses, barns, and fields, but also places such as churches and cemeteries. Regardless of having to accept the market value, many felt there was no compensation that could be afforded to leave the only home they ever knew. Even more so, a great number felt as if they were not only selling their heritage, but also their dead. For those who had to sacrifice their homeplace, the bond to their ancestors and family is something that could never be for sale.

In the years following the park’s establishment in 1941 a concerted effort was made to return the land to its previous wilderness state. The Civilian Conservation Corps dismantled homes, took down fences, and planted nearly one million trees. Three historic churches were left standing and cemeteries along roadways were kept manicured. Many cemeteries however were all too soon overtaken by the woodland that began to grow around them and became isolated in remote areas of the park.

A marble headstone with a crack down the center.
Located in the Adwell Cemetery, the headstone for Margret Adwell (1822-1900) became damaged after 100 years of exposure to the elements in the park. In 2019, family of Adwell hired cave guide and stonemason, Charles Vanover, to repair and clean the headstone.

NPS Photo/ Kennetha Sanders. Sanders, a fourth generation descendent of Adwell, now works for the NPS on the land that was once part of her families home.

Discovering Local Heritage

Within more recent times, these cemeteries have gained increased interest among some who may have no family connections at all. Some cemeteries and gravesites demonstrate extraordinary stonework. These areas exhibit large rock walls that were constructed around individual graves or larger walls around entire families. Over the many decades some of these walls have suffered damage due to tree falls or simply by weathering that caused some stones to collapse. Fortunately, a group of expert stonemasons working with the park were so captivated by such craftmanship, they soon traveled to multiple cemeteries and gravesites to meticulously repair and re-lay the stones as they once were.

Recording the Past

Of course, the park cemeteries have always held interest among family and genealogical researchers. Throughout the years many have traveled long distances to see the grave of a relative they have searched for. Sadly, for many, physically reaching some of these areas is not possible. However, a large-scale project conducted by the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) made searching much easier. They traveled to each known cemetery in the park and conducted a full survey of each site. They photographed and transcribed all legible headstones and used a Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) to show precise locations of these areas in the park. The project was put online and is available to the public. Now, those searching for a specific cemetery or individual that may not be able to physically travel here, can virtually visit with the click of a button.

Whether you have family connections to anyone buried in the park’s cemeteries or not, they provide an insight to the number of families who once lived here. Simply by taking a slow walk and reading stones we can discover what at least a small part of their life may have been like and what may have been most important to them. Hundreds of families had to sacrifice their homes and move in order for Mammoth Cave to become a national park. These cemeteries remind us of that, and also of those who did not move, but will ever be a part of this land.



Discover Roadside Cemeteries

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    Last updated: May 3, 2021

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    Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007


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