Tent Graves of Mt. Gilead Cemetery – Sparta, Tennessee - Atlas Obscura

Tent Graves of Mt. Gilead Cemetery

These early tent-shaped grave coverings are unique to Appalachia.  


A fascinating group of tent-shaped stone grave coverings, most over 150 years old, stand in Mount Gilead Cemetery as well as in other cemeteries in White and Overton County, Tennessee. These folk style grave coverings, called tent graves or comb graves, are found primarily in Tennessee, but examples have been found in Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, and even as far west as Texas. 

While some claim that that the purpose of the tent-shape covering was to keep animals from getting into the graves, it actually was a popular aesthetic choice. 

The tent structures themselves were made of sandstone from the area, though sometimes limestone was used. The various tents found in Mount Gilead are supported by triangle cut stones at both ends, inserted under the stone slabs. Some of these graves have caved in or fallen apart over the years, but most are as sturdy as the day they were constructed. There are some unmarked graves in this cemetery, but most have worn headstones at either end of the grave. 

The name Mount Gilead, meaning hill of witness, came from the small Methodist church across from the cemetery, first built in 1826. Tent graves were locally produced through the late 1880s, when they were replaced by more modern, traditional stones.

Know Before You Go

This is not the easiest cemetery to find, and Google Maps is not exactly updated in this area. Searching for the church on your map would be the best bet. The cemetery is just across the road from the church. Note to editor: Some of my pictures turned sideways after I loaded them. Not sure why.

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