Preserving Nashville’s Pioneer Legacy, Part III: Saving Buchanan’s Station Cemetery

from the files of the Nashville Historical Newsletter.

Buchanan’s Station was a fortified settlement established about 1784 during the pioneer era of Nashville, Tennessee. Located on a bluff overlooking Mill Creek in today’s Donelson suburb, the homestead was founded by Major John Buchanan who, along with his family and other settlers, lived there until the Major’s death in 1832. The station is best known as the site of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station, a famous Indian attack which occurred on September 30, 1792.

Buchanan’s Station Cemetery (photo by Tim Slate)

The fort is known to have been positioned precisely at the northwest corner of today’s Elm Hill Pike and Massman Drive, and a state historical plaque marks the spot. A large commercial building now covers the site of the original fort. Not seen from Elm Hill Pike but clearly visible from Massman Drive is the extant Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, the only remaining vestige of the original settlement and one of the oldest pioneer graveyards in Middle Tennessee. Buried here are Major John Buchanan (1759-1832) and his storied wife Sarah “Sally” Ridley Buchanan (ca.1774-1831), along with about 65 other family members, affiliated settlers, and possibly slaves. Many graves are marked only by unengraved fieldstones. Notably, historical circumstances indicate that at least five frontiersmen who were at various times killed by Indians may be buried in the cemetery: Samuel Buchanan, Cornelius Riddle, John Buchanan Sr., William Mulherrin, and John Blackburn.

Entrance gate to Buchanan’s Station Cemetery (photo by Tim Slate)

On March 17, 2012, the Friends of Buchanan’s Station Cemetery met for the first time. Fostered primarily by the Buchanan Log House Chapter APTA, its president, Lu Whitworth, and historian Mike Slate, the grassroots group set its goals, which included effecting the transfer of the cemetery property from private ownership to Metro Nashville, fencing the unprotected graveyard, and acquiring signage for the education and inspiration of all visitors. From the beginning the Friends group worked closely with Tim Walker, executive director of the Metro Historical Commission.

On September 30, 2012, the Friends, assisted by Cumberland University and the French Lick Chapter of the DAR, held a major event at the cemetery commemorating the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station.

Lu Whitworth and Mike Slate, in period apparel, oversaw the event commemorating the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station, 9-30-2012. (NHN photo)

In 2015 businessman Scott Pope, working with group member Dick Davis, generously assigned the property to Metro Nashville. Later the same year the Friends, led by donations treasurer Joe Cathey, installed a quality fence around the historic graveyard and placed a comfortable bench inside. A grant from the Tennessee Wars Commission, facilitated by Tim Walker and David Currey, enabled some attractive interpretive signage to be added to the cemetery. (2017)