The first mention of the Watkinsville Cemetery occurs in 1837 when Edward Paine, local attorney and trustee of the University of Georgia, donated one acre of land, designated as an addition to the then existing burying ground.1 The gift was made to Edward Lumpkin, William Murray, Richard Dillon and John C. Johnson as Commissioners of the Town of Watkinsville. The earliest dated headstone is that of Maria Gauvain Harden, wife of Dr. Robert Harden, who died in 1829.2 The next oldest legible gravestones are those of Benj. H. Booth (1836), Caroline Paine (1838), and Edward Paine (1842).3
In 1878, Elizabeth Lee sold, for $5, 2.5 acres adjoining the existing graveyard on three sides, to James C. Wilson, a trustee for the Watkinsville Grave Yard.4 J. A. Wilson, Lula Price, A. S. Wilson, Muriel Wilson, Emma Wilson and Mrs. Laura Dorsey made another addition to the Councilmen of Watkinsville in 1909, of an unstated quantity.5 A 1940 survey identified the cemetery by the name of “Watkinsville Cemetery.”6 In 1956, Mrs. Mary Verner sold additional land to the east, contiguous with Simonton Bridge Road, labeled on the survey as “Watkinsville Cemetery Addition”.7 A deed from William Henry Hodges, I11, dated 1983, documented a recent phase of cemetery expansion, a small triangle of land in the southwest corner fronting Simonton Bridge Road.8 A quitclaim deed from Mary Thomas in 2003 transferred .136 acre to the City of Watkinsville, primarily to allow the NE curve of the original cemetery road to now be within the cemetery proper.9
There are not, of yet, any discoveries of the records of plot sales or transfers, from the town to individual plot owners. Likewise, any original burial records, produced under the 19th century Cemetery Committee authority, remain missing. They are presumed lost in a city hall fire in 1887.10 A few individual plot sales from the Verner and Hodges families to various individuals, primarily in the 1960s and 70s can be found at the Oconee County office of the Clerk of the Court.11 The most recent plot sale on record is a sale from Augusta Verner to Stephen and Dorothy Cooper Sherling in April 1989.12
Bethel Baptist Church, an African American faith community located in downtown Watkinsville, is actively involved in the maintenance of a large wooded section of the cemetery, located on the western boundary. Their involvement in the maintenance of the graves of their members originates from about 1909, with the grave of “Uncle Hardy”, an emancipated slave of Barton Thrasher.13 Mr. Burnell Brown, a Watkinsville civic leader who died in 2008, was the major source, for many decades, of Bethel’s historic relationship with the cemetery.14
The cemetery is rich in a variety of grave markers, including walled graves15, slab markers16, a box tomb17, on obelisk18, a broken tree stele19, a cast iron grave cover20, military markers from all U. S. conflicts beginning with the War of 181221, African American folk art designs22, as well as Masonic headstones.23 These styles represent the diversity of 184 years of changing funeral traditions. Nineteenth century decorative wrought iron fences surround several plots.24 The Watkinsville Garden Club actively worked to preserve the cemetery during the 1950s and 60s.25 Recent additions include a commemorative marker and flagpole donated by the T. R. R. Cobb Camp, Sons of the Confederacy.26
Of note are several graves of individuals important to state and local history. In the 19th century, Edward Paine, noted above, also served as a Georgia State Representative.27 Basil Overby served as the first sheriff of the then newly formed Oconee County.28 John Calvin Johnson, a local attorney, served as Clerk of the Clarke County Inferior Court and was honored by a Confederate Unit raised in Watkinsville that bore his name.29 E. S. Billups and Richard Richardson were, in turn, proprietors of the nearby Eagle Tavern for several decades, the latter serving in the War of 1812 and as a state representative.30 During the 20th century, notables include Margaret Bradberry Johnson, the first woman elected to the Georgia State Senate (1927)31 following the death of her husband, State Senator Leonard F. Johnson (also editor of the Oconee Enterprise).32 More recently, Phil Campbell, Jr. Georgia State Agriculture Commissioner and US Undersecretary of Agriculture, under Presidents Nixon and Ford, rests here.33
In 2010, the Reverend John Andrew Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, received a grant from the Watson-Brown Foundation to engage in a project to identify graves in the unmarked rear portion of the cemetery. A ground penetrating radar search identified about 96 unmarked graves, presumed to be the pauper section of the graveyard.34 The City of Watkinsville, the property owner, has now closed the unmarked section to future burials in order to preserve its integrity.35 In 2020, the chapter presented this schematic and historical information to the City of Watkinsville.