"Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals."
"Only by preserving history are we fit to make it. These people braved the dangers of the frontier to establish that which we enjoy. Surely they earned from us a right to believe that the stones which mark their lives and deaths will be held as a sacred trust and historical tie between the past, today and the future." Edward Ronsheim
Article published Oct 17, 2004
Old family cemeteries fall victim to spreading development
By Jennie Jones Giles
Times-News Staff Writer
They are found in pastures surrounded by cows, in apple orchards, in laurel thickets, alongside creeks and rivers, in fields surrounded by crops and deep in the woods where it takes long hikes to reach them. Some are so overgrown with vines, poison ivy and other underbrush they can no longer be seen.
And some have been plowed under the ground, are underneath houses and destroyed in countless other ways.
These are the graves of the founders of Henderson County, the first pioneer settlers, the freed blacks and slaves. They are the ancestors of thousands of residents.
The men and women raised families, built homes and churches, began the first businesses, farmed, planted apple trees and built the county's towns. They served as commissioners, sheriffs, doctors, midwives, justices of the peace, magistrates and ministers.
Many fought in the Revolutionary War. As members of the N.C. Militia, they were ordered to participate in the Cherokee Indian Removal in 1838. They fought as Confederates and for the Union during the Civil War.
They are the history of Henderson County, a history that many say is being lost, forgotten and neglected.
Descendants of the John Jackson family became alarmed recently when a monument the family erected in 1975 was pushed off its base by the landowners of the property on which the old cemetery is located.
"The grave site contains the remains of John Jackson and members of his family who were some of the original inhabitants of Henderson County when it was organized in 1838," said Gerald Jackson of Elgin, S.C. "The grave site and the area around it is associated with the old pioneer Point Lookout Fort, according to local tradition and as reported by Frank FitzSimons Sr. in his 1976 Volume I From the Banks of the Oklawaha."
John Jackson had, at one time, owned the property where the cemetery is located. On the knoll surrounding the cemetery grew peaches. He operated a gristmill on the small creek that flows alongside the road near the mountain, family members report. Jackson was also a Confederate veteran of the Civil War.
His descendants include former sheriffs and judges. Jackson Park was named for a family member, said Gerald Jackson.
In the late 1970s, family members, with the permission of the landowner, cleaned the cemetery, removed a headstone and erected a monument, which stood 6 feet high by 21/2 feet wide by 10 inches thick. Inscribed on the monument are the names of John Jackson; his wife, Elizabeth Brown; and their children who were known to be interred in the cemetery, including a 10-year-old girl who died after a rattlesnake bit her. It has inscriptions on both sides.
The monument is now off the base and lying flat. Timberline Estates, a subdivision, is being built below the old cemetery and family members fear the cemetery was destroyed to make way for phase II of this development.
Karen Stepp Carswell, owner of the property on which the cemetery is located, said the area where the grave sites are located is not part of the planned development.
"We sold the land all around the cemetery, but I still own the land the cemetery is on," she said. "They are developing 40 to 50 houses down below. I wanted the monument flush with the ground. We are not going to disturb any graves. Children will be up there playing, and if it turned over, it could kill a child."
Carswell said the family removed the original headstones and fieldstones and she wants those replaced.
"The family carried off the original markers," she said.
Dudley Jackson, a descendant, said the family has one original headstone, which is in safekeeping until the matter is settled.
"A human being could never have pushed that stone over," he said. "We want it put back. The original grave markers are probably buried in the ground."
Family members said when they called the Sheriff's Department they were referred to the magistrate's office. Removing or destroying a grave marker of any type, including a monument, is a criminal offense, according to N.C. Statutes.
Sheriff George H. Erwin Jr. said he was unaware of any calls. After checking with officers, he found some calls were referred to the magistrate's office. He said the situation has been corrected and that an officer will investigate all such calls in the future concerning alleged criminal offenses against graves and cemeteries.
"If a person knows of a grave being disturbed, they should notify the law enforcement in that jurisdiction," Erwin said. "Developers should understand the state law and if someone is working with a bulldozer or backhoe and comes across a grave, back off. Just out of respect, I would stop."
Erwin said a few years ago he and deputies helped Boy Scouts clean up an old cemetery where the first sheriff of the county, Robert Thomas, is buried.
A couple of weeks ago at the Jackson Family Cemetery, trees were felled across the road leading from the new development to the cemetery, blocking access.
"This is private property," said a Mr. Gilbert who was driving the bulldozer that toppled the trees. He refused to give his full name. "There is no right of way up here. There are so-called graves all over this country."
"And we're in the business of protecting them," said Norman Miller with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans recently embarked on a project of locating and mapping all the old cemeteries in the county to recognize the graves of all Confederate and Union soldiers who served in the Civil War.
"That monument wasn't nothing but an eyesore sticking up there," Gilbert said. "A cemetery up there will ruin two lots. It would cut the price in half."
When Gilbert was shown records that proved the existence of the cemetery and copies of state statutes concerning cemeteries, he said family members should be taking care of them.
"I would like to see the families clean them up and people to respect them," he said.
Barbara King of Illinois, a descendant of "Long John" McCarson, for whom Long John Mountain is named, recently wrote in a letter to the editor of her concerns for the McCarson Cemetery.
"This is one of Hendersonville's oldest landmarks," she said. "I know that selling lots and building houses on sacred land does not bother some people, but to the McCarson family it means everything."
Donald McCarson, also a descendant, said the family has deeds to the cemetery and it is in no danger. The cemetery is still used and there was a recent burial there. The old cemetery is located off N.C. 191 in the new Creekside Development, within the city of Hendersonville's jurisdiction.
The developer recently cut off access to the cemetery from an old road, but the family does have access from a new road, McCarson said. N.C. Statutes state that private property owners must give access to grave sites to descendants and others with an interest in the site, such as historical groups.
"The road was not maintained, was washed out and rutted," said Max Small, owner of Mountain Building, which is developing Creekside. "They now have a new, 24-foot-wide paved road to the cemetery."
Small said he lived near the cemetery for 24 years and wants to see it preserved.
"It is one of my passions to take care of the cemetery," he said. "I want to see it looking good. I want to make it a beautiful feature for this neighborhood."
The Brittain family cemetery was destroyed several years ago when houses were built over the top of the cemetery, said George Jones of the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society. The cemetery was in Mills River off N.C. 191, in what is today a subdivision.
A Daughters of the American Revolution monument in honor of James Brittain, one of the early settlers in the Mills River valley, is in the Mills River Presbyterian Church cemetery. But the remains of Brittain, his family and many descendants are underneath houses.
The Livingston Family Cemetery was located on a hill in what is now the development of Livingston Farms. The hill was located approximately at the site where the model homes now stand, Jones said. The hill has disappeared.
There were 22 visible graves and markers when volunteers from the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society conducted the survey of the cemetery. Three had inscribed headstones. The three inscribed headstones now rest beneath a tree and a rock-encircled area near Jackson and Hoopers Creek roads.
Livingston and his wife, Elizabeth Niesler, moved into the Hoopers Creek area of the county in the late 1700s. He was a descendant of a family of shippers from Scotland. A statue in Edinburgh stands in honor of the family, said Henderson County Commissioner Shannon Baldwin, a descendant.
It is not known what happened to the remains of Livingston and his family. The Windsor Aughtry Co., which developed the subdivision, said in an article published a year ago in the Times-News that all state laws were followed and the graves were relocated to the area where the three headstones rest on the ground against the short, stacked rock enclosure.
"Where are the other 19 markers?" asked Jones.
"The area where the headstones rest has not been excavated," Baldwin said.
"They bulldozed them away with the hill," Jones said. "They used the fill dirt in the area below the hill."
The Livingston Farms development is in the town of Fletcher's jurisdiction. No one with the company returned phone calls last week to the Times-News.
Craig Honeycutt, town manager, said nothing in the town's ordinances addresses cemeteries.
"No one from the town oversaw the cemetery removal," he said. "They told us they met state requirements."
Jones said the site of Fletcher's founding fathers is also endangered. He was assured several years ago the town had committed to maintain it, he said.
Honeycutt said he was unaware of the council's ever committing to take care of the cemetery.
"With the development of a nice park and the Fletcher Cemetery nearby, it seems like the town of Fletcher would want to maintain it," said Michael Arrowood with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
"The Fletcher Family Cemetery is a site that ought to merit a historical marker," Jones said.
A house now sits atop the hill where the Jeremiah Osborne cemetery was located off Banner Farm Road in Horse Shoe. The three known marked headstones of Osborne, Ann Blythe and Mary Ray can be found inside a small, wooded garden spot in the center of a circular driveway in front of the house.
"Jeremiah Osborne was one of the early leaders of our county," Jones said.
It is not known if the site where the headstones are now located is the original grave site, but Jones said some of the cemetery was destroyed. There were other graves with fieldstones, either children or family slaves.
The Schaffer Cemetery off the U.S. 25 Connector near East Flat Rock has been completely plowed over. The only artifact found was a Confederate States of America marker a person turned in to the county historical society.
The Old French Broad Baptist Church Cemetery is another site that local historians say may be endangered. The church, according to historical records and documents, was the first organized church in the county. It stood in a different location from where it is now located.
The cemetery is on private property, deep in the woods, unmarked and extremely difficult to find. The area is not being maintained, and brush, vines and trees intermingle with the graves. Buried in the cemetery are Andrew Miller, a Revolutionary War veteran; Leah Grady, the mother of Henry Grady, the namesake of Grady Hospital in Atlanta; members of the King family, who had one of the early bridges across the French Broad River; and numerous other graves.
"This is one of the most historic spots in the county," Jones said.
Members of the church offered to maintain the cemetery, but the property owner refused, Jones said.
"They bought a monument to put here, but he didn't want it," he said.
Jones and others are also worried about the slave cemeteries scattered throughout the county. Many may have already disappeared, he said.
"We should honor the site wherever people were laid to rest," said the Rev. Anthony McMinn, director of the Hendersonville Rescue Mission who has recently been researching his black ancestry in Henderson County. "The graves shouldn't be disturbed. The county government should take responsibility for these cemeteries and preserve the places where people are laid to rest. People have a right to dignity even in death."
Protection of cemeteries
As they search through fields and forests, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are outraged over the condition of some of the cemeteries and the inability to locate some cemeteries that were, as recently as 1995, identified in the book Henderson County North Carolina Cemeteries published by the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society. The survey describes the locations of the sites and lists the number of markers, sunken graves and decipherable names and information on the headstones.
There are 67 church cemeteries described. A few are old, abandoned church cemeteries. There are 112 family cemeteries or grave sites of individuals listed. Many of these are abandoned. Some are located on N.C. Game Lands and in the Henderson County section of the Greenville, S.C., watershed. There are six slave cemeteries listed. It is also noted, if known, when slaves were buried in family and church cemeteries. There are six public cemeteries listed and one county-owned cemetery.
The survey was conducted at the request of the state. All 100 counties conducted surveys and the results are recorded in Raleigh.
"The county is behind in enforcing the laws," said Joe Young, president of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "It is up to the county to keep track of these cemeteries."
"We just want people to be aware of what is happening here," said Miller, who heads up the cemetery committee. "We need to put these cemeteries on the GIS system."
The cemeteries are not on the county's Geographic Information System.
"It would be helpful if the counties would put the information on the cemetery surveys on plats of property and on tax records so people would know there is a cemetery before buying or selling," said Dolores Hall, deputy state archeologist with the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. "If buying property with a cemetery, the property owner should learn the state rules and regulations so the graves are not inadvertently disturbed."
Register of Deeds Nedra Moles said there is no list in the Register of Deeds office of cemeteries.
"The cemeteries are not noted on the plats," George Jones said. "The county should have done that years ago. In the mid-1980s, the commissioners appointed a cemetery committee, but they never met."
"I don't remember the issue of cemeteries ever coming before the board," said Commissioner Grady Hawkins.
"This is not something I've been involved in since I've been manager," said County Manager David Nicholson.
Baldwin brought the issue of Livingston Farms and other historical sites before the board, according to a report in the Times-News.
"Nobody ever told us we needed to be doing any of those things," said Josh Freeman, former county planner. "The staff was never told to incorporate cemeteries into the zoning ordinance."
Commissioner Larry Young said historical landmarks and old cemeteries were addressed in the Comprehensive Plan.
"They need to be kept viable and we should not let people do away with them," Young said.
In the plan that commissioners approved in July, there is a section that protects key sites of cultural and historical significance from development, Freeman said.
The plan states important historical sites should be identified with the help of the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society, said Planning Director Karen Smith.
"As part of the Land Development Code, it is phased for 2007-08," she said. "But it does not mention cemeteries."
"We'll have to revisit that," said Commissioner Bill Moyer. "We're going to have to expedite that within the next six months."
"We need to protect the grave sites of our ancestors," said Commissioner Charlie Messer. "The board needs to do a resolution or write the cemeteries into the zoning ordinance."
Chuck McGrady, who is running unopposed in the November election for a seat on the Board of Commissioners, said he served on the Planning Board for five years and could not remember a time when the issue of an old cemetery was discussed.
Even if the county addresses the issue of the preservation of the county's old cemeteries, families still must be more involved and concerned about the grave sites of their ancestors, said Jones of the historical society.
"Many of the old cemeteries are endangered more from neglect than anything else," he said. "Families are knowingly neglecting them."