Palmetto Preservation Works, Historic Preservation Consulting, Historic Rehabilitation, Historic Investments, Greenville, Greer, Upstate, South Carolina

Downtown cemeteries go national
Springwood, Richland seek spot on historic register

The Greenville Journal

BY Melissa Blanton
staff writer

Chuck Gilreath tilts his head as he silently counts the number of relatives buried at Springwood Cemetery in downtown Greenville. He stops when he gets to 30. There may be more.

Mac Carpenter gazes at the white Georgia marble headstones that mark his family members’ graves. He knows of at least seven, including his father, once a prominent Greenville doctor.

“Unfortunately, there’s no room for me,” he said.

Carpenter serves as president of Friends of Springwood Cemetery, a citizens group aimed at preserving the downtown site. Gilreath is the organization’s treasurer.

Both want the cemetery to be around for their grandkids. And they believe a spot on the National Register of Historic Places will help one of Greenville’s first cemeteries remain an area landmark.

In July, the state historic review board unanimously approved both Springwood and Richland cemeteries for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

For the past year, city officials have been working on a proposal that would include the two cemeteries on the register.

City Council took a trip to Boston in 2000 and visited a well-preserved cemetery in the Boston area.

“We were inspired,” said council member Chandra Dillard.

Soon after the trip, City Council passed a resolution creating the Friends of Richland and Springwood Cemetery.         

Their purpose was to preserve Greenville’s history, said Dillard, who helped head up the Richland Cemetery group. Council member Michelle Shain took on the Springwood Cemetery project.

“We are kind of like the moms of the cemetery,” said Dillard.

In 2004, the city hired Palmetto Preservation Works to help complete the two separate national register applications. Before a property is considered for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, it must meet specific requirements.

Four broad requirements include significant people, events, unique construction and historic relevance.

Greenville is home to 41 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But convincing state officials to approve a cemetery can be a difficult task.

“The cemeteries themselves have to meet a specific criteria,” said David Arning, principal with Palmetto Preservation Works.

The proposal had to include evidence that the cemeteries were of significant importance to the community. Arning said because of the people buried at the sites, that criterion was fairly easy to prove.

Two additional requirements for cemeteries are a unique design and notable funeral art.
Springwood dates back to 1784. Richland was established in the late 1800s as a burial site for blacks.

While the city owns the land occupied by both cemeteries, upkeep of the plots is left to surviving family members. And that’s where preservation groups from both sides face their biggest challenge- finding family members. Many have moved, are deceased or simply don’t know they have a family buried at the sites.

As a result, many sites have fallen into disrepair. Over time markers have sunk into the ground, brick monuments have crumbled and decades of rain and wind have left lettering unintelligible.

To compound the problem, in 2000 vandals knocked over about 30 markers, said Gilreath.

The task of cleaning and repairing the hundreds of decrepit plots is both costly and time consuming. And that’s where the National Register listing may help.

The listing may make corporations more willing to donate. The sites would also be eligible for federal historic preservation funds, said Dillard.

The next step in the process is a review by the National Park Service, the organization that overseas the register,


Photo Caption: PAST IS PRESENT: Springwood Cemetery has a World War I veterans burial site and a section dedicated to unknown Confederate soldiers.

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