Originally created 09/08/02

In grave need of repair

BARNWELL, S.C. - About 300 yards from the runway of the Barnwell County airport, two graves sit inside a patch of overgrown grass.

What is left of one headstone marks the resting place of William Cave, born February 1821, died April 19, 1887. The headstone of the Confederate soldier lies broken on the ground.

The other grave and its erect headstone are for his wife, Julia Ann Ashley.

"At one time, there was a little fence. We're planning to put up a lattice fence," James Ray says as he stands over the small resting place.

Mr. Ray, 65, is known as the cemetery man in his county because of the hours he has spent trudging through backwoods to document lost graves.

A larger cemetery sits in a patch of woods not quite 200 yards from the runway. Inside, along with others, are the graves of three more Confederate soldiers.

"We used to come out here to play," Mr. Ray said of the area near the airport. "(My father) used to tell us about these old cemeteries, and now most of them are completely lost."

South Carolina has unknown numbers of lost cemeteries. But unlike some states, South Carolina has left the sites untouched.

Abandoned cemeteries, most of which are old family gravesites, have no caretakers. And Mr. Ray and other hobbyists who trod through them say the state needs to address that oversight.

He believes that these cemeteries are important links to the past, helping the living find their genealogical roots.

A historian and caretaker of graves in Edgefield County says a state-funded survey of abandoned cemeteries could pay for itself.

"The state is stupid," said Carol Hardy Bryan, who often gives tours of historical sites in Edgefield. "They are ignoring the search for graves, which brings thousands of historians to this state."

But Mrs. Bryan doesn't think the state should be solely responsible for protecting cemeteries. She acknowledges that many of the abandoned cemeteries are family cemeteries with family members still around. She and her husband are caretakers of his family's burial ground.

"Money can't do it all - you have got to have the interest of the people," she said.

State law allows cities and counties to use public funds to "preserve and protect" any cemetery in their boundaries that they determine has been abandoned or is not being maintained.

State and municipal ordinances help with protection, but enforcement is a problem.

Barnwell County maintains a cemetery off U.S. Highway 278. The upkeep costs up to $5,000 a year, county administrator Pickens Williams Jr. said.

But Mr. Williams said the county has many abandoned graveyards.

"There are a lot of little family cemeteries. I don't think the families are still around," he said. "There are a lot of (cemeteries) we just aren't aware of."

The city of Aiken has spent thousands in upkeep for what was known as the "black community" cemetery. Pine Lawn Cemetery - the 10-acre plot off Hampton Avenue - received a face lift in the past year after many noticed its rundown condition during the exhumation of Lillie Belle Allen in the summer of 2001. Ms. Allen was shot during race riots in York, Pa., in 1965, and officials from there exhumed her body for an autopsy.

After the body was returned to the grave, a massive cleanup began at the cemetery.

The city deeded the cemetery to the black community in 1858. City Manager Roger LeDuc says Aiken has spent thousands of dollars over the years to keep it in good condition.

Now armed with a detailed plot of the site, the city hopes to develop a master plan for permanent upkeep - possibly including a fence around the site and paving some of the dusty roads inside, Mr. LeDuc said.

Other communities have taken a different approach.

The Beech Island Historical Society got the 212-year-old Zubly Cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January. It is the only cemetery in Aiken County with such a designation.

Of the 1,307 South Carolina listings on the registry, 12 are cemeteries.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, known for taking special interest in the Confederate dead, is embarking on an ambitious project to record every grave of a fallen Confederate soldier in the nation. But funding for the project has not materialized, said Ben Sewell, the group's executive director.

In the past few years, many states have taken a fresh interest in old cemeteries.

In Indiana, lawmakers updated state law to require that the division of historic preservation records every cemetery in the state. The new registry was started after a citizen started lobbying.

The Texas Historic Commission started a program in which abandoned cemeteries at least 50 years old can be centrally recorded. Officials say they have recorded only a minute number of known cemeteries.

Almost 30 years ago, North Carolina legislators commissioned a survey by volunteers to record every cemetery in the state. Today, the project still receives calls from volunteers.

"What has ended up happening is they were finding so many more cemeteries than they ever expected to find that it was taking them a long time to do the survey," said Debbie Blake, a public service supervisor with the North Carolina State Archives. "The public has not allowed this project to die, even though it was essentially over in 1983."

Mrs. Blake says 17 of North Carolina's 100 counties have been surveyed, and 10,000 cemeteries have been found.

Some have turned up in the strangest places.

In Raleigh, Mrs. Blake said, a small cemetery was found when developers began to pave a mall parking lot.

"They actually built the entire mall lot," she said. "... (The graves) are in a little fenced-in thing. That was pretty unusual."

Mrs. Blake said cemeteries should be valued.

"To me, cemeteries are important for what they are - there are people buried there - people who lived on this land and worked on this land," she said.


Georgia has laws similar to South Carolina's on abandoned cemeteries, allowing municipalities to use public funds to clean them and providing punishment for desecration.

Like South Carolina, Georgia has no state agency that oversees private, abandoned cemeteries.

But Georgia passed legislation in 2000 that gave the Secretary of State's Office the authority to ensure proper care at perpetual-care cemeteries and gave it the authority to levy fines for noncompliance.

Also like South Carolina, many privately funded agencies have taken up the cause of restoring abandoned cemeteries in Georgia.

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or matthew.boedy@augustachronicle.com.


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