McGavock Family Cemetery, Fort Chiswell Virginia

Date added: October 30, 2023 Categories: Virginia Cemetery
Exterior view from West (1977)

The McGavock Family Cemetery is noted for its rich collection of 19th-century funerary art, including an important group of Germanic stones, the only ones of their type located in a family burying ground. The stones are attributed to Laurence Krone, the best of the region's Germanic carvers, and the only one to be identified by name. In addition to its artistic interest, the McGavock cemetery is significant for its association with a prominent Southwest Virginia pioneer family.

James McGavock, Sr. of Rockbridge County moved to what is now Wythe County in 1771 where he purchased the Fort Chiswell property and established a highly successful ordinary. At his death in 1812 the tract was left to a son, James McGavock, Jr., (1764-1838). He was in turn succeeded by his two sons Joseph Cloyd McGavock and Stephen M. McGavock. These two men undertook a massive improvement project emblematic of their family's status as one of Wythe County's oldest and most influential clans. Immediately after their father's death they built themselves the enormous brick Greek Revival-style. mansion which overlooks the site of the original family house. At the same time, they commemorated the family's long prominence in the area by engaging Laurence Krone, the county's most skillful carver, to fashion monuments for their father, grandfather, and aunts and uncles. These stones equal in craftsmanship and design the high quality of the mansion, and like it are the marks of a family certain of its position and eager to display it to the world.

The McGavock family continued to bury its members under elaborate monuments there throughout the 19th century, and the cemetery remains in use today.

Site Description

Set on a hill above the McGavock family mansion at Fort Chiswell, the McGavock Cemetery contains a small collection of about fifteen skillfully carved, well-preserved gravestones. Germanic in style, these stones are attributed to Laurence Krone, the most important of the Southwest Virginia carvers.

The stones are all sandstone slabs with rounded shoulders and a three-quarter disc at the top center. Like most Germanic stones, they are double-sided, with a design on the reverse, and a different design framing an inscription on the obverse. The reverse designs all include engaged colonnettes. linked at the top to pinwheels connected by a reeded ribbon band. Overlapping the bank and extending into the upper lobe is a single design, whether a tulip, a fern, or a sunflower. Sometimes, as in the case of the Sally Kent stone, there is another design in the field between the colonnettes. Here it consists of a circular basket enclosing fern fronds and serving as a base for four sunflowers. The curved edges of the stones are sometimes reeded, and the obverse of each is decorated with a crimped reeded border, a fern or a rosette in the upper lobe and an inscription in simple block letters. Most of the stones have footstones. These are decorated like the headstones, but the inscriptions are restricted to the initials of the dead person.

Although the death dates on these Krone stones range from 1812 to the late 1830s, the fact that they were all made by Krone and that he used a single design scheme out of several that his work in Wythe County embodies suggests. that these stones were all made to order at one time before 1840.

The cemetery also contains a number of striking late 19th-century monuments to other members of the McGavock family. Most notable are two large marble obelisks topped by shrouded urns, a shorter square pier capped by a shrouded. urn and decorated with swags and inverted torches at the corners, and a marble arch with shrouded urns at the springings and a cross at its apex. The cemetery is surrounded by an iron fence with cylindrical pales and intermittent urn-capped cylindrical posts.

McGavock Family Cemetery, Fort Chiswell Virginia Exterior view from West (1977)
Exterior view from West (1977)

McGavock Family Cemetery, Fort Chiswell Virginia View of Sally Kent Stone (1977)
View of Sally Kent Stone (1977)