This article, written by Jennie Jones Giles, was published in the Hendersonville Times-News about 2004. It cannot be located on the newspaper’s web site, blueridgenow.com
The following is an edited and shortened version of the original article written by Jennie Jones Giles.
In a patch of woods behind a small, white, clapboard church on North Clear Creek Road are at least nine graves not recorded in the Henderson County Cemeteries North Carolina book.
Six of the grave markers are the granite stones found at most of the old cemeteries in the county. Two had metal funeral markers, with the names eroded from the metal.
One is a government –issued quartz tombstone for World War I veteran Albert H. Mills, who was born June 7, 1897, and died Dec. 16, 1963. Mills served his country as a private first class in Co. B, 333 Service Battalion.
Mills and the other people whose remains are buried in this small, wooded cemetery were members of Mount Zion Baptist Church, a small, black church in the Clear Creek community.
Jennifer McDaniel of Clear Creek is a descendant of the early members of the church.
“To me, it’s about making sure the history of ex-slaves who settled in Henderson County does not fade away,” McDaniel said. “My main interest is to preserve the old cemeteries and grave sites of the people of African descent in this community.”
McDaniel called the N.C. Historical Preservation office in Raleigh to get information on preserving and restoring old cemeteries.
John Horton of Hendersonville, a restoration specialist with the N.C. Historical Preservation office, met with McDaniel at the Mount Zion Baptist Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the graves of slaves, former slaves and their descendants are buried.
“A lot of my ancestors are buried at Ebenezer, and in Mount Zion cemetery there are graves marked only with field stones,” said McDaniel. “Others are sinking and some have old headstones with names and dates very hard to read.”
Edna Allman of Hendersonville said the Mount Zion Baptist Church is more than 100 years old.
“My father was 3 years old when they started building that church,” Allman said.
Her father was the Rev. William Ezekiel Nesbitt, who was the preacher at the church for many years, beginning in 1932.
Allman has a deed which shows the property was bought in 1899 from the Corn family by deacons of Mount Zion Baptist Church. One of the deacons was A.L. Mills.
“1899 was the date they recorded it in the courthouse,” Allman said. “They had the land before that. They bought it for $12. It took them three to four years to pay the $12 off.”
As a child, Allman said she attended three churches in the black community of Clear Creek: Mount Zion Baptist; Stanford Chapel, a Methodist church; and a holiness church.
“We didn’t know which church we belonged to,” Allman said. “We’d go to all the churches.”
Services at the Baptist church were held the second and fourth Sundays of the month, she said.
“They baptized me down the road in a pond,” Allman said. “Most people were baptized in the creek down where the bridge is.”
The congregation of Mount Zion originally attended Green Mountain Baptist Church, Allman said. After the Civil War, the former slaves bought land on Green Mountain.
“There are people buried up there at Green Mountain Church,” she said.
She has old deeds showing the church trustees owned the land on Green Mountain until 1933, when the last of three lots was sold.
McDaniel and Horton discussed the graves at the two churches.
“You don’t want to lose the historical character of the cemetery,” Horton said. “When you start making gravel plots and clearing grass, you are losing the historical character.”
Clear out the undergrowth and weeds, but keep the trees and the leaves, he said.
First, map out the cemetery and survey it, Horton said.
“Every single stone should be counted and each fieldstone should be given a number or a name,” he said. “Photograph each stone and index it to a number. It is also important to document indentations in the ground where a grave may be located. Document all existing conditions before restoration.”
Sunken graves should also be documented before restoration. Archaeologists have many devices that can find graves that are not marked.
Use hand clippers when cutting growth around a grave stone. String trimmers can cause damage.
Non-ionic detergents are best. Never use bleach.
Use a natural bristle brush, such as a mushroom brush or vegetable brush.
A toothbrush is good to clean indentations and engravings.
Weed killers are dangerous to use around fieldstones. The herbicide leaches into the stone and can cause permanent damage.
Be careful with fire near a cemetery. Quartz stones can shatter in excessive heat.
Don’t use concrete to stabilize stones. Concrete can cause damage. Excavate, pull out, level, then compact the soil, using a little gravel for drainage.
Raking and digging several inches next to the stone will sometimes reveal markings and engravings. Soil, leaves and other plant debris settle and build over many years, sometimes leaving only the tip of the stone above ground.