Storm Causes Damage At Historic Site - Brevard, NC
Last updated 9/27/2017 at 2:39pm
In the windy wake of Hurricane Irma, a felled oak tree shattered a piece of Brevard's history.
"I was fast asleep, and I heard an enormous crash," said Karen Palmer, who lives in a home behind St. Philip's Episcopal Church at the end of St. Philips Lane, beside a private cemetery, known as the Old King Cemetery.
The next morning, Palmer went outside to investigate and found the tree she suspected would, at some point, fall on Rice Street Community Garden adjacent to the cemetery, had instead fallen on one of the oldest and largest tombstones in the graveyard.
Palmer moved into the home beside the cemetery in 1994, and from that point on, she made it her own personal crusade to keep it from becoming hidden in an overgrowth of vegetation.
"Kudzu, bamboo, English ivy, not to mention poison ivy, cat briar, fallen limbs, fallen logs," Palmer said, listing out her many foes over the years. "You'll never win against an invasive species; you just have to keep fighting."
She moved in with the skills, though, to try.
"I knew how to prune, clear property effectively, with hand tools, and over the years, I cleared it out by hand and made it into a little park," Palmer said.
"Very few people realize there is a cemetery here in downtown Brevard."
The most interesting piece, she said, is the tombstone that was hit by the tree.
"It's a rectangular super structure with a gigantic slab of stone on top, with a relief diamond cut into it, made possibly in 1888, when the woman died," Palmer said.
Lying beneath the broken monument are the remains of Charlotte King, wife of Samuel King, who, according to "The Heritage of Transylvania County," a comprehensive series of books listing the families of Transylvania County, "was one of the county's earliest settlers."
According to the section on the King family, "Samuel was active in the local political scene. In 1861, he was appointed processioner. In 1862, he was commissioned county surveyor. He served as a magistrate of the court and was several times on the jury panel."
On April 1849, Samuel married Charlotte. They had three sons, Pinkney Sylvester King, Mitchell Malachi King and James Columbus King.
"It has been said that in the family that Samuel and Charlotte told their sons that one of them was going to be a doctor; for the boys to decide which one it was going to be and Mitchell Malachi was selected," according to the genealogy.
Mitchell's home still stands on Probart Street today.
Charlotte herself, Palmer said, had her tombstone and monument designed like a bench so that her family could come out to the cemetery, sit on her tomb, "have sandwiches" and talk to Charlotte.
Lee King, now living in Raleigh and son of the most recent additions to the cemetery, John King, who passed in 2015, and Elizabeth King, who passed in 2013, were all residents of Waynesville, and he said the King family bought the cemetery from the City of Brevard some time during the 1930s, for a dollar.
King said he, his brothers and sister dug their parents' grave.
"Not many people get to actually dig the grave where their parents are buried," King said.
Now 55, Lee said there are four generations of Kings buried in the cemetery, and he "fully expects" that he and his two brothers and sister will all be buried there.
"To me, it's interesting for my family because you can see the generations lining up," King said. "If you go there and look, we have stone monument with a bronze plaque on it with my mother and father, and to the right of that is my father's sister and her husband, and the row in the front of that is where my brother is and he's the first of five generations to be buried there, so for those of us in the current generation, we can see where we will end up."
King added that Palmer has done an "excellent job" of maintaining the cemetery.
Jill Chapman, chair of the Abandoned Cemetery Committee for Transylvania County, concurred.
"Karen deserves so much attention for looking after the cemetery all these years," Chapman said.
She said it started out as a Baptist cemetery in relation to First Baptist Church of Brevard, then the King family purchased half of it.
According to the "Transylvania County N.C. Cemetery Survey," the King family owns one section, but the other half was "possibly established" by the "Baptist site," though no one has claimed it and "records of municipal ownership" could not be found.
Over the years, Palmer said she's had the opportunity to hear local stories about the cemetery, including one from the late Jack Hudson, who was chairman of the Transylvania County Board of Elections.
"He said when he was growing up, he and his friends would have to pass through the cemetery to get to school, and they would dare each other to sit on Charlotte's tomb," she said, "and when one of them would do it, the rest of the would jump up and scream, scaring each other."
One day, Palmer said she saw a woman walking through the cemetery, and she went out to meet her.
"She was one of the kids who walked through the cemetery to school," Palmer said. "She was, at that time, living in Alaska, but she came to see where she used to hide these boots her grandfather had bought her."
Palmer said the woman told her that her grandfather bought her "the damn coolest boots of that time," but her mom forbid that she wore them to school, so the woman said she hid them behind Charlotte's grave, wearing her "dumpy school shoes" when she left the house.
"She'd come to the slab and sit down and take the shoes off and put the cool boots on, and do the reverse on the way home," Palmer said. "I just love that story."
Casting a perplexed gaze upon the broken monument, Palmer said she's "devastated."
"I just hate to see that this happened," Palmer said. "This is a sacred and historical place."