The original articles on Stanford Chapel AME Zion Church were written by Jennie Jones Giles for the Hendersonville Times-News in 2004 and 2005. They were not located on the newspaper’s web site, blueridgenow.com
The following are edited and compiled articles written by Jennie Jones Giles.
Members of the Blue Ridge Conference of the AME Zion Church, and trustees and members of Stanford Chapel AME Zion Church, had to prove ownership of the old church property in the Henderson County court in order to retain ownership and obtain a clear title to the property located in the Clear Creek community. They hoped to restore the desecrated cemetery and replace fieldstones that were moved by a neighboring property owner.
The church is located today on Salisbury Road, but in its early history it was located on Edwards Mountain. A small cemetery was next to the church. No one today knows exactly how many graves were on the property.
The fieldstones from the original church cemetery were piled under a tree, one propped against a tree and others scattered at the top of a knoll.
“I’ve known about those graves all my life,” said Paula Gibbs Clark, who owns property adjacent to the cemetery. “My grandfather used to say, ‘Don’t walk through there, it’s a cemetery.’”
Sometime in the 1990s, the old fieldstones that marked the graves were pushed off and piled under trees at the top of the knoll.
“The church never sold that land because a cemetery was on the property,” said Lance Allen, a church trustee.
Elder James MacDougall of Rutherford County, in 2005 head of the Blue Ridge Conference of the AME Zion Church, requested the Stanford Chapel church, now located on Salisbury Road in the Clear Creek community, to find out how to prove a clear title to the property and to restore the cemetery.
The deed for the property was signed Aug. 15, 1883, between H.C. Corn and wife, N.E. Corn, and five black men, the first trustees of the church. The names are difficult to read on the old deed. Three names are decipherable: W.R. Featherstone, F. Castleberry and F. Allen.
In the late 1920s, the church built a new church building on Salisbury Road.
On current maps, the Land Records office shows the old church property on Edwards Mountain is owned by the AME Zion Church. In 1998, Allen received the tax and re-addressing information on the property, addressed to AME Zion Church. Since it is church property, it was tax exempt.
Meanwhile, neighbors to the church property, the Clarks, were keeping the cemetery cleaned off, Allen said.
“I was maintaining and mowing the cemetery for the church,” said Martin Clark, “when I was arrested for trespassing.”
Claiming she owned the land, Diane Hyder Monge filed the trespassing charges against Clark in the late 1990s. Allen testified at the trial on Clark’s behalf and the case was dismissed.
There is a deed transferring ownership of the property to Monge. Her deed was traced to a quitclaim deed issued Aug. 6, 1987, by grantor Tom Edwards and wife, Bessie, to T.D. Dalton and wife, Ruby, who are deceased. Ruby V. Hyder, aka Ruby Dalton, deeded the land to Margaret Diane Monge on Aug. 8, 1990.
“That was a false deed,” Allen said. “There is no record the church ever sold that land to Edwards.”
A thorough search of county records could find no transfer of ownership of the land from members of AME Zion Church since the church obtained the property in 1883.
A quitclaim deed is defined as “a deed that conveys a grantor’s complete interest or claim in certain real property but neither warrants nor professes that the title is valid,” said Tommy Thompson, former Henderson County Clerk of Court.
“It is like selling your interest in the Henderson County Courthouse,” Thompson said.
“Since such a deed purports to convey whatever interest the grantor has at the time, its use excludes any implication that he has good title, or any title at all,” states Real Estate Law 40 (Sixth Edition, 1974). “A seller who knows that his title is bad or who does not know whether his title is good or bad usually uses a quitclaim deed in conveying.”
The AME Zion Church filed a court action to quiet title. This is a “proceeding to establish a plaintiff’s title to land by compelling the adverse claimant to establish a claim or be forever stopped from asserting it.”
Desecration and restoration
The church now has proved ownership in court, but not before the cemetery was desecrated. The cemetery is also now marked on the Henderson County GIS system.
Linda Hall, state archeologist, said once stones marking graves are removed there are several tests archeologists can use to determine where graves are located.
“There are probing tools and resistivity meters that measure changes in compactness of the soil in an area,” she said.
Private firms will do the testing, but this can be extremely costly. Universities also have the equipment, but the professors would have to voluntarily agree to help.
“Churches and groups could seek help with funding, such as grants, to do something like this,” she said.