If you make your way to Old Fourth Creek Burying Ground on any given day, you’ll probably see a man with a long grey beard and glasses working on landscaping or cleaning stones. Don’t worry. It’s not Rip Van Winkle waking up from a twenty-year nap; it’s Scott Stevenson. He is the caretaker of the cemetery and serves as the chairman of the Cemetery Committee at First Presbyterian Church. The graveyard is one of the oldest in the county.

Stevenson has been passionate about cemetery preservation, specifically the preservation of Fourth Creek, for years and has educated himself on the best ways to clean and repair headstones.

Maintenance of the cemetery was the responsibility of the City of Statesville for years until recently when an agreement was reached between the city and the church to turn the property back over to the church. Stevenson took over the full-time duty of trimming tree limbs, leaf blowing, mowing, weed eating, and other landscaping necessities.

Stevenson is always looking for ways to promote Fourth Creek and cemetery preservation in general. Last summer he coordinated Atlas Preservation to come out and conduct a free day-long workshop on how to properly clean and repair stones. Participants got to ask questions and even clean headstones at Fourth Creek for hands-on practice.

Now, he has partnered with local students from the IB program at Oakwood Middle School who have developed a unique way to share the history of the cemetery with the public.

As part of the IB World School program, Oakwood Middle students are required to participate in a Service as Action project. IB Coordinator Sarah Pittman explains that the program “encourages students to align their interests with a way to get involved with and give back to the community.”

The project allows them to gain hands-on experience in certain areas of study, enhances their understanding of subjects, and nurtures curiosity about how to improve, or in this case preserve, in the world around them.

Seventh-grade teacher David Bush partnered with Stevenson to serve as a local expert in historic preservation. Bush says the primary purpose in focusing on this particular site is “so that tombstones which have lasted for hundreds of years can be preserved for several more generations.”

This project is exposing young people to history that can sometimes be overlooked by today’s fast-paced and social media-driven pre-teens.

“The kids are learning to see that the people of the past were still people. They are not just names on a stone marker or figments of their imagination; they were real people with families and lives. It is teaching a new generation how to empathize with the people of the past,” Bush explains.

As part of their project, the students have created QR codes for the headstones in Fourth Creek. Each QR code will connect viewers to a digital biography of the individual buried at that spot and a brief history of what life would have been like for that person. Research was facilitated by Stevenson through resources available at the library in the Local History Room and online. The codes have provided a unique opportunity to share the personalized history of the cemetery. As Bush mentioned, these are more than names carved into stone. These were people just like us with stories not so different from our own.

Oakwood Middle students placed the codes on the morning of Wednesday, March 20. During their visit, students also learned about the process of cleaning headstones and were able to practice in small groups. More than a dozen stones were cleaned and some really great questions were asked by the students. As someone who conducts cemetery research and preservation in my spare time in addition to my work with the library, I was so encouraged to see the curiosity in the Oakwood students and to hear the enthusiasm from them as they learned something new.

Visitors are encouraged to walk the sacred grounds of Fourth Creek and learn more about those interred at this historic site. The QR markers will be up throughout the month of April.

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


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