Woolley Cemetery

The following is an excerpt from: (2021) Report of Mapping at Woolley (Woolly) Cemetery (3FA346), Centerville, Arkansas. Report submitted to the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Figure 1. Drone view of Woolley Cemetery looking to the west.

On November 19, 2021 the Jamie C. Brandon Center for Archeological Research (JCB Center) and the Faulkner County Museum conducted a documentation and mapping program at the historic Woolley (Woolly) Cemetery (3FA346) located about a mile south of the entrance to Woolly Hollow State Park on Arkansas Hwy. 285 (Figures 1 and 2). The purpose of the fieldwork was to clean the cemetery from overgrown brush and debris, and to map, photograph, and document the visible cemetery stones and markers.

In order to protect the cemetery, a cemetery wall of cinderblocks stacked 5 high and capped by 16 x 8 x 2 flat cinderblocks has been constructed around the perimeter. The wall still stands today, although many of the capped cinderblocks have been damaged. The interior of the wall–the actual cemetery space–has been covered with poured cement. The current landscape surrounding the cemetery is a cow pasture with rolling hills and natural, as well as, human-made terraces constructed by Camp Halsey (3FA313) enrollees. A few hundred meters to the southeast is the former the location of the Martin Alfred Woolly (son of William Riley Woolley and Sarah Downing Woolly) homestead cabin (3FA220), which has been moved to and restored at Woolly Hollow State Park.

Figure 2. Left, Dr. McKinnon documenting the epitaph on the W. L. Woolley (R4N1A) stone as the sun casts a shadow to make it visible. Right, Lynita Langley-Ware records additional details of the stone.

Buried in the cemetery are twenty individuals and represent some of the earliest pioneer settlers to northern Faulkner county, including William Riley Woolley, the first person buried at the cemetery and patriarch of the Woolley family (Figure 3). William Riley Woolly and his wife, Sarah Downing, along with seven of their nine children moved westward from Wayne County, Tennessee. They ultimately settled among the rolling hills along Black Fork Creek in what was to become Centerville in northern Faulkner County. Their last two children, twins William Levi and Martin Alfred, were born in at the homestead in Centerville.

Figure 3. William Riley Woolley (ca. 1811-1859)

The Woolley Cemetery is organized into several north-south rows of visible surface stone features that mark the burial locations of at least 20 interred individuals (Figure 4; Table 1). As part of this mapping project, rows were numerated into five rows beginning in the northwest corner and moving eastward. Surface stones located within each row were assigned a feature number beginning in the north and moving south. A total of 21 visible features were recorded during the survey. These include vertical and horizontal (on the ground surface) headstones, and a few small footstones. A marked space delineates the largest stone at the cemetery (R3F1) and the burial location of Effie Myrtle, Minnie Jane, and Mary Blessing Woolley.

Figure 4. Location of cemetery features organized into five rows. 

The oldest person buried at the cemetery is Rebecca (Sis) Blessing who was aged 82. Of the twenty individuals, nine are children or infants under the age of three. There is a single teenager (Effie Myrtle, age 17) and three individuals in their 40s. Sarah Downing, wife of William Riley, lived to be 70–23 years past her husband’s death.

Three individuals were in their 20s, including Mary Blessing (wife of Martin Alfred) who died of typhoid fever when their children were young. After the passing of his wife, Martin moved away from the area and is not buried at the Woolley Cemetery. Some of the individuals have been identified in a short genealogy that was provided by Mr. Jerry Blessing.

NameR# F#BirthDeathAgeComments
Abijah Davis WoolleyR1F11851187726Husband of Jane Blessing; Son of William Woolley and Sarah Downing
Jonathan Jones WoolleyR1F21836186226Husband of Rebecca Angeline McNew; died Civil War
William Riley WoolleyR1F31812185947First person buried in the cemetery
Sarah Downing WoolleyR1F4A,
1811188170Wife of William Riley Woolley
Mary Katherine WoolleyR1F5A,
1846189650Daughter of William Woolley and Sarah Downing
Octavia Isabelle WoolleyR2F1188318841
Baby FowlerR2F2189518950
Rosa Agness FowlerR2F3188418851
Effie Myrtle WoolleyR3F11889190617
Minnie Jane WoolleyR3F1188718881
Mary Blessing WoolleyR3F11862189129Wife of Martin Alfred Woolley; Died of typhoid fever
William Levi WoollyR4F1A
1853190249Twin to Martin Alfred Woolley; Husband of Lucinda Blessing; Son of William Riley and Sarah Downing
Olley WoolleyR4F2189618968 mo.Son of William Levi and Lucinda Blessing
John BlessingR4F31868188820
Samuel M. BlessingR4F41835188146
Rebecca (Sis) BlessingR4F51870195282
Baby WoolleyR5F1192119210Possibly John William Woolley, son of Alfred Woolly and Jessie Henderson
Baby WoolleyR5F2191919190
William Thomas (Billy) WoolleyR5F3188418883
Jesse Cleveland WoolleyR5F4188718889 mo.Son of Cleophis Woolly and Otelia Cantrell
Table 1. Inventory of known burials at Woolley Cemetery.

For more information:

Faulkner County Historical Society
1986 Faulkner County: Its Land and People.