Editor’s Note: May is Cemetery Appreciation Month. This is part I of a two-part series.


BY SHELLIE TAYLOR

I have had several people in the last few months reach out to me to share their concerns about residential and industrial development in Iredell County and its potential negative effects on historical structures, including cemeteries. This is a valid concern, and one that weighs on my mind quite often.

In the last ten years, there have been at least four major development sites that have threatened historic structures and/or cemeteries in Iredell County. There are probably more, but I have researched these four sites in great detail in order to share the importance of preserving history instead of erasing it. As I tell everyone, I don’t expect all people to be a cemetery nerd like I am, but everyone should have a level of respect for the sacred burial grounds of our ancestors.

White’s Mill/Walker Cemetery at Larkin Development

We do not know exactly when White’s Mill was established on Third Creek, but it was listed in an industrial census in 1850. The mill was run by Robert White. It’s possible that it was founded by his father, but there is no confirmation of this through records. The great historian from UNC, William Powell, wrote an article for the Statesville Daily in 1939 about the cemetery. He was told by a local African-American descendant that the cemetery was a community burial ground used by multiple families to bury their enslaved workers. This practice is not super common, although not unheard of. A similar example would be the Meck Neck cemetery on The Point, south of the golf course off Brawley School Road. It would make sense for families living close together, especially families who were related or joined by marriage, to create one central burial ground. The White, Chambers, and Barkley families were very prominent in this area in the 19th century. All of them are known to have owned slaves, according to the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules.

Unlike most slave cemeteries which only include uninscribed fieldstones, the White’s Mill site has two stones that appear to be hand-carved with names. One is marked “Mary K.- 1856” and the other is marked “James W.- Sept 1854.” This makes the cemetery unique in that it gives names to at least two enslaved people. There are also newspaper mentions of two more people buried here: Peter Grant (who died in 1889) and Maggie Chambers (who died in 1895). Both are buried here, most likely because they had family buried here. Their birth dates are unknown, so it is impossible to say whether they were born into slavery.

The Larkin Front 9 development off Amity Hill Road was a source of contention in 2022, according to Statesville City Council minutes. Pressure from the community resulted in the hiring of TRC Environmental Corporation, an Asheville-based company that conducts property surveys to assess threats to historical sites and the environment. Library staff worked very closely with the field director from TRC. He came into the library to do extensive research. TRC was specifically looking into the historical significance of the White’s Mill that was on the property, as well as claims of a slave cemetery existing in the boundaries. There is also a separately deeded plot of land for the Walker family cemetery. Determining the precise location of that site was also a priority.

The TRC survey was completed in March of 2023. A 14-page document clearly shows the exact boundaries of the cemeteries in question. Structures identified on the site included the White’s Mill dam, a stone retaining wall, an old barn, the remnants of an outhouse, and a brick chimney. They also discovered the stone markers for Mary and James from the 1850s as well as a funeral home marker for Rose Cannova Walker, who was buried in the family plot in 2014. Originally, it was believed that the Walker plot and the slave cemetery were separate from each other, but the report clearly shows where Rose’s marker is only a few yards away from Mary’s. The report states that there could be upwards of 100 burials at the site. TRC conducted their survey without ground-penetrating radar technology. To conduct a full GPR survey, the forest floor would have to be cleared completely for equipment to maneuver.

TRC made recommendations that the area of the White’s Mill and the cemetery be eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. They also highly encouraged the developers to install fencing around the site to preserve it. The site has been reported to the North Carolina State Office of Archeology and is therefore protected.

Mary Crawford Burial at Gilbert/Westminster Development

The property behind Gilbert Road that backs up to Interstate 40 has been another hotly contested development in the county. Despite my personal feelings about high-density developments, my job is strictly to ensure the protection of the cemetery on the property, which has been thoroughly documented since the 1970s. The stone of Mary Crawford has been reported as the only inscribed stone at this site, but as many as 6 to 10 more unmarked fieldstones were located in the vicinity.

The cemetery was included in a survey by Rubie Ross Queen in 1975 to celebrate the bicentennial. It was recorded in 1990 by Lois Schneider, who was a member of the Genealogical Society of Iredell County. Irene and Russell Black who completed the most comprehensive and recent cemetery survey for the county in 1999 also listed it. Schneider’s description is one of the most accurate I have ever seen while researching cemeteries. She mentioned who owned the property at the time (General Assembly of God), approximately how many feet from I-40 and Third Creek it was located, and the types of trees that surrounded it. In 1990, the stone for Mary Crawford was lying flat, and has most likely been covered by erosion and forest growth. The recorded inscription said she was 38 years old, died October 31, 1821, and left four daughters. I have not been able to uncover much more about her, and until her stone is found, these surveys are the only documentation of her life.

I will go on record here and say that I have had nothing but positive discussions with the developers since I first notified them of the cemetery’s existence in February. I personally visited the site on March 5, 2024, with Prestige Corporate Development and walked the property in search of Mary Crawford’s grave. The property had recently been logged and many downed trees and brush hindered the search. We narrowed down the most likely place of the lone Crawford burial and we all agreed that after the brush was cleared, another search would be necessary. The area in which Mary Crawford is buried is not buildable land. It is located on the edge of a flood plain and in an area that the developers have marked off as use for green space. If the cemetery is found, they will most likely place a fence around it and incorporate it into the scenic atmosphere of the nature trails.

Library staff have had conversations with residents who live nearby as well. We have provided as much information as possible for all planning and zoning board meetings and continue to stay updated on the progress of this project.

It’s important to keep the stories of these cemeteries alive and to talk about them. Having the conversations keeps these sites in the minds of everyone and they are less likely to be forgotten.

Shellie Taylor is the Local History Program Specialist at the Iredell County Public Library. She can be contacted at michelle.taylor@iredellcountync.gov or 704-878-3090, Ext. 8801.

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