Pinckney’s Tomb looks like a rustic home from the outside, but nothing is living inside. Instead, this covered cemetery has been the final resting place for a town’s early settlers for more than a century.
When you’re traveling through west-central Tennessee, this out-of-the-ordinary landmark can easily grab your attention. Once you learn more about its story and what sets it apart from other graveyards, you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth a stop.
If you love unusual places with interesting histories, we think you’ll want to add Pinckney’s Tomb to your bucket list.
What is Pinckney’s Tomb?
Technically, Pinckney’s Tomb is a grave house, and it’s the largest one we know of. In simplest terms, it’s a family cemetery with a roof over it. The graves belong to some of the members of the town of Linden, Tennessee’s early farming families.
Also known as the Hufstedler Cemetery, it contains burial plots of various members of the Hufstedler, Randel, and Whitwell families. The earliest grave dates to 1887, and the most recent one to either 1923 or 1924.
The structure, which looks like a house at first glance, is made of wood and has a peaked roof.
Another distinguishing feature is the eye-catching wall of cut limestone, standing about five feet tall around its lower portion.
It was already a simple family cemetery when Pinckney Hufstedler built the grave house over it in 1885. The local story says he didn’t like the idea of his own grave getting wet during rain storms. Others believe Hufstedler wanted to honor his loved ones with something akin to a mausoleum.
What is a Vernacular Rural Cemetery?
With the construction, Hufstedler wasn’t exactly following the typical cemetery conventions of the time. Following the European tradition, most formal graveyards were located on church grounds. But this one wasn’t, so this is another way that Pinckney’s Tomb stands out in terms of historical significance.
It’s also an example of vernacular architecture, which is a fancy way of saying Hufstedler was marching to his own drummer. Rather than following formal rules for design and construction, he relied on limited know-how and materials that were handy.
In other words, Hufstedler followed his heart, not textbooks, in constructing the covered tomb. To the layperson, this might seem like simple common sense.
But architectural scholars can gain valuable insights from studying such works, even when they’re primitive in construction. All these years later, they can still provide lessons in building smart to suit local conditions better.
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Was Pinckney Hufstedler Buried in the Tomb?
We don’t know much about the tomb’s namesake, who may or may not have had an aversion to a soggy grave. Local history also says the farmer wanted to arrive at his grave in a wagon pulled by white oxen. We’re not sure if surviving townsfolk honored this last request, but history records his interment, under his own roof, in 1895.
His wife, Louisa, lived for another 30 years or so before her burial near Pinckney’s side. Hers was the last grave added to Pinckney’s Tomb. In all, eight different plots reside inside the tomb.
What is the National Register of Historic Places, and is Pinckney’s Tomb on It?
Though mostly in its original condition, Pinckney’s Tomb hasn’t always been in tip-top shape. Without a team effort, it could’ve been lost to history or obscured by overgrown trees and shrubs. Thankfully, history-minded preservationists worked hard to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Administered by the National Park Service, the register offers protection and funding for historic and artistically significant buildings and properties. In partnership with other agencies, the program provides grant funds to help maintain Pinckney’s Tomb’s ongoing maintenance.
Upkeep is still a challenge, however. Part of the stone wall collapsed at one point and needed repair. In other places, roots from trees caused damage to the aging structure.
Speaking of tombs, check out Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State.
Can You Visit Pinckney’s Tomb?
If you visit this one-of-a-kind grave house in person, you’ll see a discreet but handsome historical marker in front. It has a brief history of the landmark and calls attention to its inclusion in the National Register.
Even though Pinckney’s Tomb is on private property, it’s open to visitors. And it’s easy to get there from downtown Linden, which is about 90 miles west of Nashville.
From the traffic light, head south on Mill Street for 1.2 miles, where you’ll cross State Route 13. Take a left at Veterans Park and drive eastward to Old Hohenwald Road. Follow the signs to the cemetery alongside Hurricane Creek Road and Whitwell Cemetery Road.
What Else Can You Do in Perry County, Tennessee?
Pinckney’s Tomb isn’t the only attraction in the area. You can also visit several other places the tourism folks love to show off. Here are three more we think are worth your while.
Cedar Grove Iron Furnace
What looks like the bottom part of a pyramid is a relic of the community’s industrial past. The 30-foot-tall structure is all that remains of a “double stack” iron furnace that operated for about 30 years until 1862.
At its peak, the operation produced around 1,800 tons of pig iron daily and employed 120 workers. Built from native limestone, it’s the only one of its kind still standing in this part of Tennessee.
Mousetail Landing State Park
One of the best natural features of this region is its hilly forest scenery. It’s on full display at this colorfully named 1,247-acre Mousetail Landing State Park. It’s located right on the banks of the Tennessee River, so fishing is naturally a big draw. Try your luck with bass, bream, perch, and catfish, or launch a boat for some relaxing time on the water.
The park also has two popular hiking trails, one three miles long and another that’s eight. For overnight stays, you can choose from primitive campgrounds or RV sites with partial hookups.
The Elephant Sanctuary
Because of the compassionate efforts of Carol Buckley, nearly a dozen formerly captive Asian and African elephants have new space to roam. The makeshift herd mostly consists of animals rescued from zoos and circuses.
This isn’t a petting zoo, but you can observe the elephants exploring their new 3,060-acre habitat. It’s truly a learning experience to see how they’ve adapted to their new home.
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A Unique Final Resting Place
It’s certainly not the Taj Mahal, but that’s part of why Pinckney’s Tomb has so much charm. It’s a poor person’s version of a fancy final resting place. And it’s a survivor, over a hundred years now and counting.
Whether Hufstedlers hated the idea of getting wet in the grave may be a reality, or perhaps it’s just local lore. But his building of a roof over a community graveyard has had lasting impacts. It’s helped to protect the remains of his loved ones and also to preserve their memory for subsequent generations. Even to strangers like us, just passing through on our road trip across Tennessee.
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