City protects, preserves historical site

Downtown revitalization has been a big focus for Russellville the past few years, but for archives director Chris Ozbirn, there is another facet of the county that deserves attention as well: the preservation and protection of its cemeteries.

One of the oldest cemeteries in Russellville, Old Town Cemetery, recently had a chain link fence installed around its perimeter, thanks to the efforts of Ozbirn and city officials.

“I am so thankful for the mayor and the council and Shannon Wilson. This wouldn’t have gotten done without them,” Ozbirn said.

Funding for the fencing project came partially from a grant the city applied for through the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area in the amount of $2,855. The total project cost $4,850.

“Chris requested that we have this done to protect it from vandalism,” said city clerk and treasurer Belinda Miller.

Ozbirn said various cases of vandalism have threatened the cemetery, including headstones being knocked over and painted on and trash littering the gravesites. There is even a case of a headstone being stolen and found in another county.

“I’ve worked for over 20 years protecting and maintaining this cemetery,” Ozbirn said.

Located on Washington Avenue, which used to be the military road or the main road leading into the city, the cemetery is a historic site for the city of Russellville, Ozbirn said. The oldest marked grave belongs to William Wilson, who died in 1823. Local historical figures, such as Dr. Samuel Sevier and Bonnie Kate Sevier, were also buried at Old Town Cemetery.

“There are numerous unmarked graves, but we know the cemetery was there at least as far back at 1818 after the town was relocated,” Ozbirn said.

Ozbirn said her next goal is to get a historical marker installed at the cemetery to recognize the historic site that “deserves a lot of respect.”

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