Toll Gate: A Hidden and Historic Cemetery in Bartlett

While browsing online one afternoon, I came upon a 1965 United States Geological Survey topographical map of the Ellendale area east of Bartlett, and along Highway 64, this map showed there being a cemetery called Toll Gate Cemetery close to modern day Wolfchase Mall. Having never seen a cemetery in that area, I wondered if it had been built over, or if the bodies buried there had been relocated. After searching the name on Google however, I discovered that although thoroughly hidden behind car dealerships, a lighting company and a Lowe’s store, the Toll Gate Cemetery, also called the Oak Grove Cemetery and the Ellis Burying Ground, still exists. The name Toll Gate seems to refer to the cemetery being close to a toll booth on the Old Stagecoach Road, which in early Tennessee history was a toll road.

This cemetery, which thousands of motorists drive past daily without knowing it is there, is one of the oldest in Shelby County, and seems to have been a burial place for both white and Black residents. At least one grave is of a Confederate soldier named Berryhill, for whose family Berryhill Road must have been named, and another is for a woman named Erma Dorsey. A man named Thomas Dorsey owned a juke joint on Germantown Road north of Highway 64, and the family name is associated with the Black community of Oak Grove. Also, at least one grave bears the Ellis name, for whom, presumably, Ellis Road was named.

Although the cemetery does not belong to them, the members of Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church have voluntarily made a point of picking up the trash in the hidden and forgotten burial grounds, but more and greater preservation efforts are needed. A historic marker should be put up, and efforts need to be made to maintain the location, and prevent any further encroachment on it.

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