The Augusta Cemetery is actually a few different cemeteries in one. Only the historic section of the cemetery is part of the National Historic registry. The historic area was active between 1852 to 1953 and was originally known as Crescent Hill Cemetery.
When you first walk into the main gates of the old Crescent Hill Cemetery, there is a slight mound. Some evidence suggests that the mound may be from a Native American burial site.[i] For reference, in that general area now, are several notable family plots all over the hill: the Hough’s (pronounced HUFFS), the Ferguson’s, the Gregory’s, the Smith’s, the Revel’s, the Eldridge’s, and more.
[i] Juanita Bull, Our Country’s First Inhabitants.
White settlers did not come to the area until 1820. The Quapaws were the main tribe in Woodruff County, though others may have passed through such as the Caddo, the Osage, the Chickasaw, and the Cherokee. Local legend says that the Chickasaw people built a settlement of tepees and log huts on a high bluff that overlooked the White River. Before Augusta was known as Augusta, this area was called Chickasaw Crossing because it was where many of the Native Americans would cross the mighty White River.
The Hough’s may be a familiar name to some, as it was Thomas and Fannie Hough, who were early settlers and founders of the town of Augusta. Fun fact: Thomas Hough moved to Chickasaw Crossing from Maryland in 1846! Though there were earlier white pioneers here in the area around 1820. The original five acre cemetery was owned by Mr. Thomas, and was named Crescent Hill because of the crescent shape of the terrain.
 Historic Registry Application: Augusta Memorial.
In 1905, another man named W. E. Ferguson, who was a prominent politician in Augusta, sold adjacent land to expand Crescent Hill Cemetery. Mr. Ferguson sold more land again in 1924, and his heirs followed suit in 1969. Over more or less one hundred years, the cemetery went from being a humble 5 acres in the mid nineteenth century to the 20.05 acres that it is now. In 1930, Crescent Hill Cemetery was renamed by the City of Augusta to be known as the Augusta Memorial Park, but only those original 5 acres are part of the historic registry. If you’re curious, you can tell where the historic area is because it is still marked with the cast iron fence from the 1800’s, and there is even an old walk-in gate down by the main street heading toward the highway from the main drive-in gates.
The graves and family plots are fantastic historical markers and monuments of art and memory. In a time before CNC machines, heavy equipment, and computers that cut into granite and marble, the graves in the original Crescent Hill Cemetery were all works of funerary art crafted by hand in a mixture of marble, limestone, and granite. Some of the imagery etched into the stones include draped obelisks, open bibles, urns, willow trees, mason images, and some of the monuments are even in the shape of a tree to mark the Woodsmen.
Family plots make up much of the Crescent Hill Cemetery area, and are often marked with the family name engraved on the step: the Shoup Family, the Eldridge’s, the Connor’s, the Gregory’s and more. Inside the family plots, many bear a large family monument in the center, with smaller headstones or markers around the square. Cradle grave markers were a popular addition to many plots as well. The end pillars that mark the four corners are often engraved with the initial of the family name to show where one plot ends and another began.
The Conner Family plot is of great interest and was even featured in the application for the Crescent Hill Cemetery to get on the Historic Registry. The monument for Emerson H. Conner and Laura C. Conner show a broken column chiseled into the left side of the monument with an opened scroll in the middle. The broken column was indicative of a life cut short, or a broken life, while the scroll could represent the law or scriptures of the bible. Both Mr. Emerson and Ms. Laura Conner were well-educated and prosperous residents of Augusta.
Ms. Laura Conner should be a role model for us all. She taught in Augusta’s first public school, was a lifetime member of the Augusta School Board, and taught Sunday School at the Methodist Church for thirty years. Education was so important to Ms. Laura that between 1910 and 1912, she donated land for a new school building. Beyond education, Ms. Laura was a humanitarian that was the first woman to serve on the Arkansas Penitentiary Commission. She advocated for better treatment of the prisoners, and drafted a proposal that was defeated in a vote of five to one: she was the only one to vote for her own proposal and the other five men were all against her. Because of this defeat, she resigned in protest which became publicized state wide and made Arkansans all over conscious of the problem.
The Conner Family monument stands near the marker for Mr. Emerson and Ms. Laura. The Conner Family monument features a classical Greek design with a wreath (likely laurel), an urn, columns, and the family name. The columns represented that honor of the family, the wreath was to symbolize the victory of redemption, and the urn testified that the body becomes dust while the spirit departs to eternally rest with God.
The Shoup Family plot has the infamous red brick mausoleum. Legend says that Mr. Shoup’s bride-to-be would only move to his home of Augusta if she could be buried in a Mausoleum so he had one built for them. To the best of the collective knowledge of the newly founded Augusta Historic Society, no one has ever actually been entombed in the Mausoleum – we will be doing an in-depth research and discovery on this though at a later date!
The Hamblett Family plot has cradle markers for many of their grave sites, with an urn at the foot of each, and the markers are all topped with a rolled scroll to represent biblical scriptures. An image of a lily lays a top the scroll. Lily imagery represents purity and the resurrection.
Penelopy Simmons lived from 1826 to 1852, and she operated a hotel in Augusta. Not much else is known about Ms. Simmons, but her grave marker is one of the earliest in the historic Crescent Hill Cemetery section of the Augusta Memorial Park.
Another woman buried there of note is Ms. Laura Shell, who lived from 1856 to 1943. Ms. Laura Shell created a club of women to work to keep Crescent Hill clean. They did the work themselves, and raised monetary contributions from fellow Augustans to help fund their task. One of the avenues in the new Memorial Park is named Shell Drive, to honor her and her hard work.
Augusta is blessed once again to have people who care about their cemetery, like Ms. Laura Shell. If you have not been up there lately, I highly encourage you to check out some of the graves in the Crescent Hill Section. Charlie and Anne Eldridge have been dedicated servants of history and together, they’ve been cleaning up some of the oldest stones and it is a night and day difference – definitely worth appreciating and some gratitude for their volunteer service!