AIKEN - Pine Lawn Memorial Gardens, once the primary resting place for blacks in Aiken, sits at the corner of Florence Street and Abbeville Avenue, surrounded by a residential neighborhood.
Although still an active cemetery, it is not a serene, immaculate, well-maintained burial ground. Instead, waist-high weeds, broken headstones, and barely discernible dirt roads stretch across the 9.5 acres of hallowed ground.
But the 155-year-old cemetery may soon get a new look..
In March, Pine Lawn Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It's an honor that board members for Pine Lawn Memorial Gardens Inc. hope will stimulate community involvement in maintaining and preserving the cemetery.
"I think it will help tremendously," said Hallie Holland, president of the organization. "Hopefully, now, maybe people will see us as being a little more legitimate, and they'll be a little more apt to help us take care and maintain and preserve."
Listed on the register as the Aiken Colored Cemetery, Pine Lawn Cemetery was established in 1852 when the city of Aiken purchased four acres for the "colored" churches because none had private cemeteries on their properties.
Mr. Holland estimates that about 8,000 people are buried in the cemetery, but knowing for certain will be nearly impossible because many of the graves never had markers.
"We've identified some of the graves that have no markers as being graves, so there's a tremendous effort to get in touch with people who have family members buried here who have never had markers," Mr. Holland said. "We're doing everything we can to maintain it and restore and replace markers and headstones, which is part of our overall effort."
Researchers have identified 108 graves of veterans from five wars - the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Coleen Reed, a member of the board, said that the oldest grave identified was that of Richard Ancrum, who died in 1862 at the age of 86. His headstone reads "Faithful Servant," leading preservationists to believe that he might have been a slave.
"You have to respect the past to move into the future, and you have to respect the contributions your forefathers made," Ms. Reed said. "That was one of the reasons why we pursued the National Historic Register."
Mr. Holland hopes the recognition will be a catalyst, making people aware of the fact that the cemetery is a place of historical significance in Aiken.
"We realize that (preserving the cemetery) is significant - to our personal history, to community history and to American history," he said
Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.