This is an amended and edited version of an article first published in the Hendersonville Times-News in 2005.
By Jennie Jones Giles
Briars and weeds were clipped and cut. Saplings and trees felled. As the grass was mowed and dirt and leaves raked, grave stones that were lost to sight for years were revealed.
In 2005, volunteers, many with the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, cleaned the historic Rickman Family Cemetery in Mills River.
The cleanups began in an effort to preserve the historic cemeteries in the county.
The Rickman Cemetery clean-up included an old-fashioned Decoration Day and picnic to encourage more family members and residents to participate.
“The clean ups stir memories of families, of Decoration Day and of families getting together for dinner on the grounds and celebrating memories,” Jean Poteat, a volunteer at the clean ups, said.
“Every stone tells a story of love and hardship,” Poteat said.
“A person’s whole life is contained within the birth and death dates on those stones,” said her husband, Curtis Poteat.
Poteat said some volunteers came from Morganton and other towns to help with the clean ups.
“These cemeteries tell the early history of this county and I want to preserve our history,” said volunteer Jessica Miller.
“One person can make a difference in the county,” said Joe Young, volunteer and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans performed a color guard in Civil War uniforms and a gun salute in honor of the Confederate veterans buried at the cemetery. Three died in the Civil War.
The grave of Jesse Rickman (see information under Revolutionary War Patriots), is also located in the cemetery. In 1791, Rickman married Mary Trantham.
“In 1836, Jesse gave the land on which the first Mills River Baptist Church was built,” a Rickman family historian wrote. “Mary Trantham Rickman, who died a short time after this deed was issued, was among the first to be buried across from the church, in the family cemetery near their home, known as Sycamore.”
Sadie Smathers Patton, a local historian who wrote a history of Henderson County in the late 1940s, was a descendant of the Rickman and Smathers family, who are buried at the cemetery. She kept the cemetery cleaned for many years.
Patton’s father, John Smathers, was the owner of the first automobile in Henderson County, said Frank Fitzsimons in his book “From the Banks of the Oklawaha.”
J.P. Rickman, a descendant of the Rickmans buried in the cemetery, opened a store on Main Street in the late 1800s. In 1887-88, he served as mayor of Hendersonville and was president of an early, local bank. In 1895, he built a large, two-story house on the corner of Fourth Avenue West and Washington Street. The house was hand-mortised and pinned together with locust pins, wrote Fitzsimons.
“The Rickman house was a mansion for the little village of Hendersonville in 1895,” Fitzsimons wrote.
The home later became a boarding house, known as the Kentucky Home, and later a hotel. In 1962, the hotel was demolished by the city of Hendersonville to build a municipal parking lot.
In 1905, Rickman sold the Fourth Avenue West property and built a home on Pickens Hill off Sixth Avenue West. The family later moved to Greenville, S.C. The former Rickman home was enlarged and remodeled into the Park Hill Inn, a luxury hotel. It later housed the Hendersonville Elks Club. The building burned in a fire in the 1970s.
The earliest marked grave in the historic cemetery is dated 1832 and the most recent burial for J.W. Smathers was in 1943.
There are Confederate markers for six Confederate veterans.
John R. Edmundson enlisted in the 60th N.C. Infantry Regiment, Co. D, Henderson Rangers. He was hospitalized in 1862 in Dalton, Ga., sick again in the winter of 1863, returned to duty, sent to the hospital sick in June 1864 and returned to duty from July to August 1864. He served through the war. He died after 1900.
John B. Rickman enlisted in the 69th N.C. Infantry Regiment 7th Regiment N.C. Cavalry, Co. A. He died in 1892. The Confederate marker placed near his original headstone has incorrect Confederate military information. The marker has the information for John W. Rickman who is buried at Old Salem in Fletcher.
Joseph W. Rickman enlisted in the 69th N.C. Infantry Regiment (7th Regiment N.C. Cavalry), Co. H. He died in 1866. The military information on the grave stone is incorrect. Joseph W. Rickman did not serve in the 60th N.C. Infantry Regiment.
There are three graves that are most likely memorial markers.
Caleb A. Rickman was killed in action at the Battle of Gaines’s Mill during the Seven Days Battles near Richmond.
David W. Rickman was killed in action between February 1865 and March 21, 1865. The exact date and place that he was killed was not reported. He either died in a skirmish during the march through South Carolina or at the Battle of Bentonville in North Carolina.
Marquis Lafayette Rickman died of wounds in 1862 in the hospital at Staunton, Va. He was wounded at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek (Battle of Mechanicsville) during the Seven Days Battles near Richmond.