Greenleaf Cemetery receives historical marker

GENE DEASON Special to the Bulletin
Frank Hilton of the Brown County Historical Society and the Brown County Historical Commission, and former Greenleaf Cemetery Association board president Patti Austin, who headed the research project that resulted in the marker, were among those who spoke Saturday’s dedication.

Describing Greenleaf Cemetery as a tranquil park that serves the living as well as the dead, representatives of the cemetery’s association and local history organizations dedicated a Texas Historical Commission Cemetery Marker Saturday morning.

Separate historical markers are already in place throughout the cemetery recognizing the lives of notable persons buried there, but this marker — near what was once the main entrance off Center Avenue — commemorates the entire cemetery’s place in Texas history.

“I think, and I have thought for a long time … this is where you can come to be quiet,” said Patti Jordan, now of Austin and a former president of the Greenleaf Cemetery Association board. “I’ve always considered this my park. And we are standing on holy ground. This is the ground Greenleaf Fisk gave in 1868.”

Fisk, known to local historians as the father of Brownwood, gave five acres of land for a community cemetery and he followed that up with additional acreage. It has grown to 95 acres through the generations.

Jordan, who headed the research project that resulted in the historical designation, said her husband, Tom — a school and Sunday school teacher — told children that “history” means “his story.”

“Here, every grave, every family, every spot is a story, is a family history, and it’s a story all their own,” Jordan said.

She added that she would bring her own public school students on field trips to the cemetery, where they learned to appreciate the famous people buried in Greenleaf as well as the members of their own families found there.

“There’s a lot of Texas history here, not just Brownwood history,” Jordan said. “Those fourth-graders loved it, and it was so good for them because we would talk about their families.

“I find that the stories in the cemetery and the stories that enrich our lives are part of our foundation,” Jordan said. “Standing in this place gives you the feeling that you know you are grounded in something very special in this community, and in this state.”

Connie Wyatt, president of the Greenleaf Cemetery Association that hosted the ceremony, thanked Jordan for her efforts researching its history and working with the state historical commission to make the marker possible.

“Future generations will come here and read the information on this marker,” Wyatt said. “This cemetery is educational as well as a place of tranquility.”

Master of ceremonies Frank Hilton, also representing the Brown County Historical Society and the Brown County Historical Commission, reminded the audience that Brownwood was a small pioneer community when the cemetery was founded, with most businesses and homes clustered near the courthouse area. The cemetery was basically out in the country. The city had no water system until the 1880s, Hilton said, and that used water from the Pecan Bayou that wasn’t fit to drink. No formal fire department existed.

“There were no paved roads,” Hilton said. “Everybody who came to the cemetery came on horseback, or in a carriage or a wagon. So if you’ll just close your eyes and think a minute about what it was like to come in here to one of these burials back in the 1800s, you’ll imagine they were on horses or surreys attending a funeral, paying their respects to a loved one. This is what Brownwood was like when this cemetery was given. It’s quite different when you come here today to attend a funeral.”

The marker states that the first known grave of a total 22,000 now in the cemetery was that for Emma B. Adams in 1873. Others buried here include Noah T. Byars, owner of the building where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed; Dr. Mollie Armstrong, the first woman optometrist in Texas; Robert E. Howard, author and creator of the Conan the Barbarian character; Will E. Mayes, a Texas lieutenant governor; and Fisk himself, along with several members of his family.

A new grave marker for William Fisk, one of Greenleaf Fisk’s 16 children, will be dedicated at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 21, near the Center Avenue entrance, Hilton announced. Refreshments will follow at the Greenleaf Fisk home behind the Brownwood Coliseum.

It will be the third such ceremony in four weeks at Greenleaf. On May 30, the Brown County Historical Commission dedicated a Texas historical maker recounting the history of Charlie Webb, a Texas Ranger, and John Wesley Hardin, the man who shot and killed him in 1874.

Also participating in the ceremony were Aurora Owen and Deja Martin, members of Daisy Scout Troop 4036 led by Shelia Evans, pledges to the U.S. and Texas flags; and Richard Hetzel, closing prayer.

Members of the Greenleaf Cemetery Association board are Wyatt, Tim Wilson, Angie Gomez, Harold Hogan, Carol Spratt and Judy Fenton.