Charlotte Observer article on Cemetery – June 13, 2012

Scout helps rescue long-neglected cemetery

150-year-old historic site was resting place for former slaves

By Caroline McMillan      The Charlotte Observer

  • South Mecklenburg High sophomore Russell Grevera (right)  is restoring an old cemetery off Colony Road in SouthPark, where former slaves are buried. The historical spot was named a historic landmark in 2005, but is overgrown and unmarked. Grevera is looking at an old archeological study of the cemetery with his parents, Mark and Anne Marie (left) and Rachel Russell, who works for the landowner Grubb Properties.

  • While Grevera and his fellow volunteers were clearing out ivy, weeds and underbrush, they found field stones marking graves. Their biggest find was one gravestone with an inscription: “Anna No Dide Jan 20 1888.”

  • Russell Grevera is gathering volunteers to care for the cemetery. His plans include: clearing the underbrush, making a border around the gravestone area and installing benches, markers and signage so the public would know the area’s significance.

 When Russell Grevera read the newspaper article, he said to his dad:

“This is it.”

The 16-year-old junior at South Mecklenburg High had been searching for a project to earn his Eagle Scout rank, the highest honor in Boy Scouts.

He had found it: an undertaking needing thousands of volunteer hours – two acres of overgrown trees, underbrush and poison ivy covering a long-neglected cemetery more than 150 years old.

In February, South Charlotte News wrote about an unmarked cemetery in the heart of SouthPark that dates back to the post-Civil War era.

The historical landmark is located on a wooded lot in the middle of the mixed-use community Morrison Place, along Colony Road.

In 1867, two years after the Civil War ended, a group of freed slaves and black members of Sharon Presbyterian Church founded their own house of worship – the first black Presbyterian church in the county.

They named it St. Lloyd Presbyterian for abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

The congregation paid $25 for a diamond-shaped lot for the church and cemetery along Colony Road, just one mile north of their former church.

More than 50 years later, the church sold its land to Cameron Morrison, a former governor and later U.S. Senator, and relocated to Grier Heights.

The church changed its name to St. Lloyd Heights Presbyterian, and later disbanded.

However, the cemetery remained, along with the near-forgotten history of the church members  buried there.

Lost markers

Grubb Properties acquired the land at the corner of Colony and Sharon roads (including the cemetery) in 1998, to build Morrison Place.

A 1993 archeological study showed that the land was home to 78 graves, nearly all of which had lost their markers.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission tracked down the names of 16 people buried in the cemetery.

They were farmers, domestic workers, laborers, children and stillborn infants, and causes of death ranged from pneumonia and pellagra (a vitamin deficiency disease) to whooping cough.

Grubb Properties preserved the plot, and in 2005, the Charlotte City Council designated the two-acre cemetery a historic site. No construction can take place without permission from the Historic Landmarks Commission.

A nonprofit, the Grubb Preservation Foundation, was founded to care for  the historic land.

CEO Clay Grubb developed a plan to keep the foundation funded: When a condo was resold, a quarter of a percent of the sale would go to the preservation foundation.

Grubb hoped sales would generate $5,000 to $10,000 in annual income. But when the real estate market stagnated, sales practically halted.

Only two condos were resold last year, and one was a bank foreclosure.

In the February article in South Charlotte News, Grubb said he was open to having volunteers restore the cemetery.

Scout steps up

Grevera, a member of Troop 256, which meets at Quail Hollow Presbyterian, wants  to restore the cemetery as a place of reflection.

He wants to clear the underbrush, make a border around the gravestone area and install benches. The area needs markers and signage so the public would know the area’s significance, he said.

“It would take a lot of leadership, and it would be very good for the community,” said Grevera.

He approached Grubb who responded enthusiastically, Grevera said. Working with the Historic Landmarks Commission, they devised a plan.

Daniel Levine of Levine Properties volunteered to clear the perimeter of the cemetery, so Grevera and his volunteers could clean the rest by hand.

Before Grevera started,  you could only access a small clearing laden with poison ivy, litter and vines.

Grevera has had two official work days, one in April and one in May. Grevera, his parents, Mark and Anne Marie, and many of his fellow Scouts and their families got to work.

One of the volunteers brought a metal detector.

They found beer bottles and cans, a glass Gatorade bottle (from the 1980s, they believe), square nails made by a blacksmith and even a bed frame.

But their biggest find was hidden beneath vines and trash, adjacent to a thick tree so large it sprouted three trunks.

It was a grave marker. Some of the hand-writing on the inscription was uneven: “Anna No Dide Jan 20 1888”

“It made us all stop in amazement,” said Mark Grevera. “We were looking at someone’s grave who had been buried (nearly) 125 years ago.”

Grevera’s next work day is June 30.

‘Go big’

Marianne Ward, who lives in Colony Apartments, walks her dog, Bear, by the site nearly every day.

While Grevera was walking through the cemetery with his parents one afternoon last week, she stopped to shake his hand, thanking him for his hard work.

“I’d like to volunteer,” said Ward. “There’s just something really special about this place.”

Rachel Russell, who works with Grubb Properties and the Grubb Preservation Foundation, brought good news: a unit in Morrison Condominiums just sold.

The quarter of a percent of the sale will go toward Grevera’s efforts. He’s already raised $1,000 and thinks it’ll take about $6,000 to do the cemetery justice.

“I’ve always gone by ‘go big or go home,’ ” said Grevera. “It’s got to be tasteful, look good and be something that will hopefully last for generations.”

Copyright 2012 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

McMillan: 704-358-6045

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