Mt. Olivet Chapel & Cemetery History
Courtesy of Elaine Hicks
Mt. Olivet Chapel is the oldest structure in Pineville, Louisiana, and was built in 1857 under the diocesan leadership of the illustrious Leonidas Polk: First Bishop of Louisiana, founder of the Univ. of the South (Sewanee), and General of the CSA (The "Fighting Bishop of the Confederacy"). It was built from the plans of Richard Upjohn of New York, a famous church architect of his times, and was consecrated on June 29,1859. All the lumber used in the chapel was donated by Major Huie. Mr. Charles Schrader, Theodore Schaedel and Christian Baden erected the building. Mrs. McCoy, wife of the Reverend Amos D. McCoy, Rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Louisiana, raised funds to help with the cost of the Chapel by teaching a private school.
During the War between the States, the Chapel was used as a headquarters for the Union Army. Union soldiers, taking their ease on the back porch of Mt. Olivet Chapel would vary their boredom by taking rifle shots at the heels of a young man named Jonas Rosenthal, whose duty it was to be a runner between the Confederate forces at Fort Buhlow and a camp south of Pineville, and whose courier route took him through the cemetery. The shots are reputed to have greatly increased his running speed. The chapel was spared when Alexandria was burned only because it had served as Union Headquarters. Mt. Olivet's fence was sent to New Orleans to the war effort, but the bells were left to toll the grief of the destitute people.
After the war, Mt. Olivet was used as a school and Dr. Anthony Vallas, a licensed larder and deacon (a former professor at the Louisiana State Seminary [LSU] before it was closed by the Civil War) held occasional services. Mt. Olivet was considered a Chapel of St. James Episcopal Church, until September 1, 1873, when the congregation was organized as a separate parish under the name of St. Peter's Church, which lasted until 1880 when it once more became a mission of St. James and resumed the name of Mt. Olivet. The building was used as a school and a community center.
In 1910 Emma Gray, widow of the Reverend John Gray, Vicar of Christ Church Mission, raised funds to put on a new roof, paint the church and install the first of the stained glass windows. During the period between 1920 and 1946, other stained glass windows were installed - two believed by many to be Tiffany windows. Mt. Olivet continued as a mission of St. James. In 1946, the congregation became a parish under the name of Mt. Olivet. Dr. Fayette C. Ewing gave funds for the construction of the adjoining Parish House. It remained a parish until September 19, 1966, when the congregation moved into a new church on Edgewood Drive, changing the name to St. Michael's.
Mt. Olivet Chapel remained the property of St. James and was used as an office for the Episcopal Hospital Chaplaincy. St. James donated the Mt. Olivet Chapel and Parish House to the Episcopal Dioceses of Louisiana in 1972 and
when the diocese divided in 1980, the offices of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana were established in the Parish House. The Chapel is used for occasional special services and is not open to the public except at those times.
Mt. Olivet Cemetery is the property of St. James Episcopal Church and has been owned by St. James and operated by the Vestry or a committee since 1858. An active committee is now involved in managing the endowment fund and the maintenance of the cemetery. The name of Mt. Olivet Cemetery appears in minutes written in June 1858. Evidently the name had been selected even before acquiring the land. There were graves on this land already and the earliest surviving marker is dated with a death date of 1824. Mt. Olivet grave sites have always been open to the entire community. The names of many early pioneers and prominent citizens of the community will be found on the tombstones: Gov. T. O. Moore, Louisiana's secessionist governor; Dr. Thomas Maddox, a participant in the Sandbar duel; Henry Hardtner, internationally known as the "Father of Reforestation"; George Bolton, founder of Rapides Bank - the first locally owned bank in the parish; Edgar McCormick and Henarie Huie, founders of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk; and Senator John Overton.
It was estimated that there was about six acres of land purchased at a price of $700. There are no records of the cost of grave sites or cost of a square which contained 12 graves. A look at the early plot will show that many families were buying a whole or half square. However, on July 25, 1893, the Vestry passed a motion that provided that Lot. No. 59 be set aside for single graves and the price be fixed at $5.00 each.
In 1986, an acre of land directly behind the cemetery across Singer Street was purchased to provide burial sites as all spaces in the historic section have been unavailable since about 1960. On November 1, 1997, the Mt. Olivet Mausoleum/Columbarium was dedicated. The mausoleum is quite unique with its gothic peak roof line and stained glass windows from the 1874 St. James church. It contains 100 crypts and 40 niches. There is also a Memorial Wall for the remembrance of loved ones. Mt. Olivet Cemetery is available to the community today as it has been for over 175 years.
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