Magnolia Cemetery was inspired by a growing town’s simple need: Existing graveyards at local churches were filling rapidly.
Land purchased by the city in 1817 accommodated the first burials just a year later. Today, the 60 acres between Second and Third streets on Augusta’s east side hold more than 35,000 graves.
“We don’t really have an exact count,” said Jerry Murphy, the site’s caretaker and records manager since 1983. “Some records are incomplete and we’ve had records destroyed over time by fires or during floods.”
In the 1860s, Magnolia Cemetery’s location on what was then the outskirts of town made it a part of the city’s defense fortification.
Its brick wall was modified in anticipation of Gen. William T. Sherman’s attack. There are still signs along the wall where bricks were removed for cannons.
It also became a resting place for hundreds of Civil War dead, including seven Confederate generals.
“We get a lot of visitors who come by looking for soldiers, and mostly the Confederate generals,” Murphy said.
There is a section dedicated to 183 Union prisoners of war who died in the Augusta area, too. Most were reinterred at the National Cemetery in Marietta, Ga., but there are still 15 headstones dedicated to federal soldiers.
Other war heroes include John Martin, who survived a tomahawk blow to the head during the Cherokee War of 1755 and went on to serve through the Revolutionary War.
Nearby is the mausoleum of Wylly Barron, which was built 24 years before his death as protection from a dying gambler’s curse.
The site also has some of the oldest trees in the city, including magnolias planted almost 200 years ago and crepe myrtles that are among the largest in the state.
Many of the most interesting – and most ornate – markers are along the Second Street side of the cemetery, where gates are open until 8 p.m. daily.
Directly next door to Magnolia is Cedar Grove cemetery, one of the region’s oldest black cemeteries. City records account for 36,272 names of the dead buried in that area, Murphy said.