Tombstones, trees & Texas history at Texas State Cemetery

Morbid curiosity has nothing to do with my love for old cemeteries. I find them beautiful and interesting in a personal and historical sense, and on travels to older cities like Boston, Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans I’ll make time for a cemetery stroll. In Austin the Texas State Cemetery is my favorite (although I admit I haven’t seen historic Oakwood Cemetery yet). Here the state’s founders, leaders, and statesmen are buried, along with notable artists, athletes, writers, and military leaders, and the lovely, park-like grounds invite exploration, which is what my son and I did last Tuesday.

A field of regimented tombstones for fallen Confederate soldiers and veterans anchors one end of the cemetery.

Seeing the tombstones of people who had a hand in shaping Texas makes them seem, ironically, more alive. Yes, that person really lived, you realize, and here he or she remains. And then there are the tombstones themselves, their towering size revealing the wealth or ambition of the deceased’s family, or modest stones indicating a pleasing or surprising reticence to acknowledge greatness. The words carved there may make you pensive or cause you to smile. I got a chuckle out of Robert McAlpin Williamson‘s nickname permanently remembered on his gravestone, above.

Beautiful statues and carvings adorn some of the graves, including several carved by well-known local sculptors Charles Umlauf and Elisabet Ney.

This one represents Joanna Troutman, who sewed the first Texas flag during the battle for independence from Mexico.

Aside from the cemetery’s history, there’s plenty of natural beauty. Cemeteries of a certain age often have majestic trees, and so does this one, as well as a stream with a waterfall and pond.

A hilly prominence topped with a live oak, reached via a spiraling ramp, invites you to climb to the highest point in the cemetery. At the top you can sit on this limestone council ring in the shade of the tree and look over the whole place.

I didn’t get a photo, but there’s also a memorial to the Texas victims of 9/11, with two twisted metal beams from the World Trade Center standing vertically to represent the two towers.

The Texas State Cemetery was renovated and restored in 1994 by the powerful and Texas-proud Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, who said, “Kids can come out here and in one day learn more about Texas history than a whole semester in class.” Hyperbole, perhaps, but you can certainly learn a lot of history in a cemetery. And at Texas State Cemetery you can pay your respects to Mr. Bullock, who, fittingly, is buried here.

The Texas State Cemetery is located just east of downtown at 909 Navasota Street. It’s free and open to the public every day from 8 am to 5 pm. The excellent visitor’s center is only open on weekdays, from 8 am to 5 pm.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

10 Responses

  1. Mary Ann Newcomer says:


    I, too, love old cemeteries. The histories and mysteries of those buried there are intriguing and make for good strolling. Jennifer Bartley (American Kitchen Garden) is working on a book about the connection between cemeteries, parks and the development of landscape architecture as a profession.

    Hope your Thanksgiving was good!


    Hi, Mary Ann. Jennifer’s book sounds intriguing. I’ll have to look for it when it comes out. —Pam

  2. I have a love for old cemeteries, too. And, this one is chock full of Texas history. Haven’t been there in a while. It might just be time for a revisit. Maybe I’ll drag those two granddaughters with me.

    They’ll enjoy climbing the hill at the very least, Linda, and maybe they’ll learn something while they’re there. :-) —Pam

  3. Bob Pool says:

    Greg Grant, a writer with Texas Gardener magazine, has a good quote, “You’ve never seen me drive by an old cemetery”. The only difference is he is looking for plants. He’s found several great plants growing in old cemeteries that have never been in nurseries before. That’s where the Henry Duelberg and Anna Duelberg Salvias came from. After you hear the story of those two salvias, you just have to buy both of them. It’s one of my favorite plant stories of all time.

    I’m with you though. I just like to visit them to look around. It’s always so peaceful in them.

    Do you have a link to his story about the salvias, Bob? I’m intrigued. You won’t find any tough old plants like that in the Texas State Cemetery—it’s too well-groomed for that—but maybe in scruffier Oakwood Cemetery. I need to visit it one day. —Pam

  4. Growing up in a city without parks, I often spent time as a young child enjoying the peace and beauty in our neighborhood cemetery. I look forward to visiting the Texas State Cemetery now as well. Great photos!

    I know what you mean, Jennifer. Old cemeteries can be as enjoyable to visit as a city park, though of course they’re not the place for running and playing. But I think kids enjoy exploring them too. —Pam

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I like old cemeteries too. They have such character.

    They really do, Lisa. They give you insight into the city’s past too. —Pam

  6. Old cemeteries are among the best places to see mature large trees, along with beautiful sculpture. I love how unique and individualized old tombstones are. Texas State Cemetery looks like a great place to visit.

    I bet Chicago has some good old cemeteries too, MMD. I should have looked one up while I was there for Spring Fling. Do you know of any? —Pam

  7. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, until I was 5, we lived in the East End of Houston near Forest Park Lawndale cemetery, where my dad’s family members were buried. My parents were on a shoestring budget then. My dad used to take my brother and me to the cemetery to visit the family gravesites, explore interesting stones and mausoleums, and feed the ducks that lived in the lake. So I grew up thinking of a cemetery as more of a happy place than a sad one. My dad is buried out there now and on the rare occasions I get there to check on his and other family gravesites, I still feel a sense of lightness and peace. (It wasn’t until years later that I realized he took us out to give my mom a break from two lively young children!)

    Thanks for sharing your cemetery story about your dad, Cindy. I think it’s lovely that you have such a connection with the place he’s buried. Our former house is within walking distance of Austin Memorial Park, an older cemetery in north-central Austin, and we often went for family walks through the shady grounds. —Pam

  8. Bob Pool says:

    Pam, I looked up the article. It is in the March/April issue. No online of the article. I will try to find mine and copy it and send it to you. You may be able to get Vicki Blachman to get you a copy and let you borrow it. Getting the article is worth the trouble. I think it also has the story of the Martha B. Gonzales rose in it. I have both of the Duelberg salvias and you would like having them, very hardy. Mine are blooming again now. You should also subscribe to Texas Gardener magazine, it’s really great.

    If you can find it, that would be great, Bob, but please don’t go to any trouble. I’ll be on the lookout for the salvias. —Pam

  9. Eva says:

    Next time you find yourself in East Texas you should visit the Scottsville cemetary in Scottsville, east of Marshall. It’s a beautiful old cemetary full of lovely monuments as well as a park and a wonderful little chapel built in memory of one of the local sons–complete with a real pipe organ. You can trace the Scott and Youree families back to the civil war. It has been lovingly cared for by the local citizens, many of whom are themselves descended from those families. My husband and I courted in that park and my son proposed to his lovely bride in that chapel.

    What a cool cemetery! Thanks for the link and the info about it. —Pam

  10. chuck b. says:

    Wonderful! Such a beautiful, contemplative time of year to visit! ;-)

    Cemeteries are so inspiring, and I think the old sculptures have a lot to do with it. People steal them, of course.

    People would have a hard time stealing from this one. It’s not only walled and fenced but guarded by a watchman who lives on the property. After all, governors and football coaches are buried here. —Pam