Cemetery tour provides look at Columbia history, founders

Friday, April 8, 2011 | 7:56 p.m. CDT; updated 11:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 12, 2011

COLUMBIA — Friday afternoon, members of the Boone County Historical Society hosted a tour of Columbia Cemetery, providing the history behind some of the names on memorials there — names found all around Columbia: Jesse, Rollins, Nifong and more.

Jenifer Flink, executive director and curator of the historical society, and Mary Beth Brown, an archivist at the Walters Boone County Museum, spoke from about 2:30 to 5 p.m., leading a group of five people through the cemetery, stopping to talk at different graves.


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Flink said they tried to combine stories of the city’s more familiar and recognizable names with those of less-known noteworthy people. They also highlighted different sections of the cemetery, such as the U.S. Colored Infantry section and the Jewish section. In honor of the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the Civil War, they spoke about figures related to the war, too.

When planning the event, Flink and Brown wanted to leave time open for questions and for people to add any information they knew.

“You can never know everything,” Flink said. “We pick up more information that way as well.”

On the tour was John M. Nowell III, a lifelong resident of Columbia and second vice president of the Boone County Historical Society, who often shared his own knowledge of some of the town’s historic figures. His family has lived in Boone County since 1860, and in Columbia since 1864.

Three generations of Nowell's family are buried in the cemetery — the tour stopped in front of the graves of his father, mother and stepmother — and he plans to be buried there himself. His own grave marker is already in place.

Nowell said he visits the cemetery often and already knew a lot about it, but he still learned new things on the tour. 

“This is quite an interesting place for history buffs,” he said.

Flink’s favorite part of presenting the tour was “telling the stories,” she said. People from the past have the same motivations and live the same dramas as people do now, she said; just the times have changed. She likes to put herself in their situations and imagine how she would act.

She especially enjoyed talking about the Lenoir family, one of what she says are the “hub families” of Columbia. They have an impressive family tree, connected to other Columbia families like the Bradfords and the Nifongs, and their legacy includes the Lenoir Retirement Community, Frank G. Nifong Memorial Park and Boone County Hospital. The Lenoirs are one of the founding families of Columbia, she said, and they have an iconic story representative of the time of westward expansion in the United States.

Tanja Patton, superintendent of the cemetery, located on the south side of Broadway just east of Garth Avenue, said she enjoys having events such as the tour in the cemetery, because she likes having people come and enjoy the place, and she thinks events are a good way to present it to the public.

Patton followed the tour, taking notes on the presentation. She said she doesn’t get the chance to go out and research all of the history of the cemetery.

“It was a learning experience for me, too,” she said.

Flink said they plan to do another tour and will try to do it in the fall.

“You could do a walk like this every month and not get all the stories in this cemetery,” she said.

Nowell said he would come again if there was another tour, because there are more families the presenters could talk about.

“A lot of different people went into the making of Columbia,” he said.

Knowing about the history of Columbia creates a sense of belonging, he said. “It’s home.”

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