Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Mar 04

County Home Graves

Posted on March 4, 2022 at 9:44 AM by Iredell County Local History

There’s a mass grave in Iredell County. It’s not too far outside of downtown Statesville really. People drive near it all the time. Its off of Gardner Bagnal Blvd., (Hwy 70) near the Ramada Inn in the area behind L. Gordon’s Iron & Metal Co., Inc. 

Viola Campbell, born in Iredell in 1903 is there. She married Romas Franklin Campbell on June 4, 1921, but the marriage only lasted five years until she died on July 11, 1926. 

The best way to find the location of the grave is to stand in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn facing the hotel and then go right up a little hill. You can’t get in though as there’s a locked metal fence surrounding the site. 

Aunt Millie Hampton is there. The Landmark, on April 22, 1919, wrote about her when she died saying, “Aunt Millie Hampton, an aged negro who was for many years a well-known washer woman about town died a few days ago.” She was described as elderly at her death and may have been born in 1846 or maybe 1837. She was born a slave and would never have known her date of birth.

There was once a dirt road leading to the site of the grave off Salisbury Road. It was called the “Graveyard Road” at one time, but is no where to be seen on maps today. There was a Church there too built in 1840. The members built it forty by sixty with their own hands out of hand-hewn timbers and framing. It had to be taken down piece by piece and moved in 1885 after the railroad came through. They were just to close to the tracks. 

One of the people buried there is John J. Snider who died on Aug. 1, 1873. The Statesville Intelligencer (an early newspaper) said he was 106 years-old at the time of his death. “This man Snyder was a Bohemian German, born and raised near Prague, of rich parentage. Conscripted by order of Napoleon on the very day he was twenty-one years old. His father gave him a good horse, with private instructions the world will never know.” 

It is hard to say exactly how many people are buried there, but it is believed to be 162. What’s interesting is that this isn’t the first time these people have been buried. I guess that kind of makes them special as not many people get to have two funerals. 

The ages of the people vary greatly from Wiley Lazenby who died on Nov. 26, 1925 at 85 to John Sherrill who died on Jan. 7, 1905, still a boy of 18. Most of them tend to be elderly though like Matilda Gentle who amazingly enough was 106 years-old when she died on May 15, 1888. She was married to Joseph Gentle. 

You kind of wonder about the ages sometimes. It wasn’t just the slaves that were illiterate back then. Death Certificates are usually a good source for proof of someone’s age, but they don’t start keeping those till 1913 in N.C. The census records are good too, but the year of birth often changes from one census to the next. 

Julius M. Douglas is probably there having died sometime around October in 1912. He was the son of Walton Douglas and was a 13 years-old in the Alexander County 1860 census just prior to the start of the war. His date of birth is listed as 1847, the same year that Alexander County was created out of Iredell, Caldwell, and Wilkes. The Landmark reported on Oct. 15, 1912, that his wife, Sarah Miller, had been in the State Hospital in Morganton for years. She was thought to have lost her mind after their son committed suicide.  

They had to be moved though. The people from Lenoir required it. John Christian Bernhardt was Chairman of the Board of Bernhardt Furniture Industries in 1972 and they needed land to build Bernhardt Plant Eight on. When they formally opened it on Jan. 12, 1974, the $5 million 400,000 sq. ft. building needed all of the 100 acres they bought from Iredell County.  

We think we know the names of many of the 162 buried together in a single cement vault. Fred Lee Allison was only 24 when he died on April 28, 1915. He worked at the livery stable in Statesville until tuberculosis got him. His parents were Sandy Allison and May Jane Simonton. Mary A. Bass, wife of Arch Bass who was deceased, died at the age of 78 on Aug. 2, 1915. The Landmark reported on Oct. 22, 1923, that Miss Sarah Barnhardt had died on Oct. 21st at the age of 70.

The county no longer used the land. The Iredell County Commissioners had voted to close down the County Home (once called the ‘Poor House’) on March 25, 1963. Twenty of the 28 residents (or inmates as the paper called them) had already been moved by the welfare department to other facilities. The other eight were to be moved soon.

You see that’s why they had to be moved too. The Home had closed down and the residents moved all except for them. Some of them had been there for over a hundred years. When they died at the Home the people or paupers as they were often called, were buried there in the Home’s cemetery called the Cedar Tree Cemetery. 

It wasn’t that John Christian didn’t respect the dead. I was at his house a couple of times in Lenoir and John loved history and revered his ancestors. In fact, if you go to Laura Foster’s grave off Hwy. 268 between Lenoir and Wilkesboro you will see a plaque that reads, “Laura’s Grave Is Across The Road Surrounded By The Whitewashed Locust Fence. The Land For This Park Is Provided By John Christian Bernhardt.”

They wanted the cemetery moved though off of what they were turning into an industrial property. The Iredell Commissioners assigned the relocation of the graves to Dr. J.H. Nicholson, the acting Iredell County health director at the time. On Dec. 4, 1972, the Record and Landmark reported that Nicolson’s removal of the graves was complete. 

Dr. Nicholson’s report to the Commissioners stated they had excavated an area of about two acres opening 506 graves and finding remains in 162 of them.  The remains were all sealed in a cement vault together and reburied in a single grave in St. Paul’s Lutheran’s cemetery. A brief graveside ceremony was conducted by Rev. Paul Conrad at the site of the relocation. 

Bonnie Miller called me over two years concerned over the mass grave on the church’s property. She is 95 now and a long-time member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Their old cemetery, still located at the church’s original site, is still cared for, but Bonnie was worried. 

“Hardly anyone in the Church besides me even knows the County Home’s people are buried there. There is no marker and I am afraid once I am gone the memory of it will be lost forever.” Bonnie told me that after the mass burial a large rock had been placed on the spot of the grave, but the rock had later been removed by people who didn’t know its purpose. 

In the Local History Room, we often help people identify the location of graves in Iredell County, but the final resting place for those that died at the County Home was unknown. We began gathering information on those we knew had been buried at the Home using the County Home records we have here on microfilm, census records, death certificates, and newspaper articles.

We have created a list of 105 people who were buried at the Cedar Tree Cemetery and were probably relocated and buried at St. Paul’s. We will continue to update the list titled, “Burials in Cedar Tree Cemetery” and you can view it online at the Local History Dept. website at www.iredell.lib.nc.us/460/Deaths. 

The number 162 doesn’t mean much by itself, but when you start adding people’s names beside the number it becomes important. We now know the names of many of those Iredell County citizens who spent their last days on earth being cared for at the Iredell County Home. We know their story and where they are buried. They are with us once again, and hopefully, will never be forgotten.