Group seeks help refurbishing old cemeteries

A new association seeks to maintain three of McDowell County’s historically black cemeteries and make sure that they are preserved for future generations. But it needs the public’s help to make sure these cemeteries get the attention they deserve.

The recently formed McDowell Cemetery Association Inc. is committed to the present and future maintenance of Glades Cemetery on Nix Creek Road, McDowell Cemetery on Westbrook Drive and Morehead Cemetery on Morehead Road. Glades and McDowell cemeteries are being maintained by the association, and state inmates were recently brought in to clean up Morehead Cemetery.

Larry Boyce, president of the association, and City Councilman Billy Martin, a member, said they are asking for the public’s help in this worthwhile effort, especially those who have relatives laid to rest in those cemeteries. They, too, have family members who are buried there.

“We are asking individuals and families who have burial plots or family members buried in any of these three cemeteries to consider making annual donations or contributions to the help cover the cost of maintaining and improving these sacred properties in our community,” reads a letter from the McDowell Cemetery Association.

“We feel it necessary to address this situation now for fear of all our African-American cemeteries ultimately deteriorating and becoming overgrown like the Morehead City Cemetery,” the letter added. “This is our mission, to see that our deceased loved ones are treated with the love and the respect they so richly deserve.”

In January 2010, The McDowell News reported about the overgrown conditions at the old Morehead Cemetery. For many years, the old Peavine railroad line separated the historically black Morehead Cemetery from the historically white Oak Grove Cemetery, which is owned and maintained by the city.

By January of last year, the graveyard, which covers 3 1/2 acres, had become badly overgrown with weeds, brush, trees and other vegetation. A resident of the Morehead community, who asked not to be identified, said this final resting place for so many people should get better attention.

Many of the headstones were hard to read even in the dead of winter because they were so covered up with vegetation. Rutherford, Swepson, Forney, Scott, Carson and Greenlee are just some of the names that can be found on the markers in Morehead Cemetery. Several tombstones contain dates from the 1800s. Several veterans are laid to rest there.

Martin said at the time he hoped the place could be cleaned up and restored to a place of respect and dignity.

“We went back in the winter and it was a jungle,” said Martin on Thursday. “It’s so old that nobody remembers how people started getting buried there.”

Last year, Yeoman Owens of Washington, D.C. visited his hometown of Marion for the 100th anniversary of Addie’s Chapel United Methodist Church. He wanted to visit the gravesite of a relative buried in Morehead Cemetery, but he was unable to reach the graveyard due to its overgrown condition. Owens brought his disappointment to Boyce, who spearheaded the formation of the McDowell Cemetery Association, which will also maintain Glades and McDowell cemeteries.

“The organization has assumed these responsibilities to ensure proper maintenance of these three cemeteries both now and in the future,” read a statement.

The effort recently got a much needed boost from the inmate work program. The local prison work unit cleaned approximately 60 percent of the brush and vegetation that had covered up Morehead Cemetery. This work was done in April, May and maybe in June, according to Boyce.

However, the state General Assembly halted the work of all the prison inmate labor units throughout North Carolina.

“The McDowell prison work unit was given one week to wrap up any ongoing projects and chose the Morehead Cemetery to get as much work done as possible,” read the statement from the association. “If the concept of prison work units is ever re-established by the legislature, it is our hope they will help us finish the work on the Morehead Cemetery.”

Boyce and Martin said they appreciate the help of the local prison work unit, especially Linda Paquin, unit manager of Marion Minimum Security Unit; Sgt. Chris Revis; and Sid Harkleroad, administrator of Marion Correctional Institution.

In addition, Glades and McDowell cemeteries need attention. The grass at those two places is mowed and burials still take place there. But a strong storm brought down a huge tree at Glades Cemetery and it broke some of the old tombstones. A lightning bolt split a tree at McDowell Cemetery in two.

“To keep it going, it is going to take a big effort,” said Boyce. “The problem is how can we maintain it?”

The McDowell Cemetery Association has no sources of revenue and is asking folks to help out with this effort, especially those who have relatives buried there.

“We are also asking residents or businesses in McDowell County who might be sympathetic with our cause to please consider a contribution,” reads a statement from the association.

The association also appreciates the assistance of City Manager Bob Boyette, the McDowell Trails Association, Little & Lattimore law firm, R.L. Greene Surveying & Mapping, PA and McDowell County Mapping Office in maintaining the properties and doing the legal work.

A fund has been set up at First Citizens Bank. Donations can be made to the McDowell Cemetery Association Inc. through the bank at 1570 N. Main St., P.O. Box 609, Marion, N.C. Donations can also be sent to Larry Boyce at P.O. Box 1913, Marion, N.C. 28752 or to Billy Martin at 350 Holly Hill Drive, Marion, N.C. 28752. For more information, call 724-4612 or 652-5506.


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