It might sound strange, at first, to plan an outing to a cemetery, but it’s actually one of the best ways to learn about our city’s history. Cemeteries are a vital resource for historians, but you don’t have to be a historian to learn some fascinating facts on just a short visit.
We visited several historic cemeteries in Charlotte so that we could share some interesting facts that we learned, and give you a head start on your own visit. We’re also including some links that will help you explore more about these sites.
Before you go to a cemetery you might find it helpful to visit Find A Grave, a massive database of graves. You can search for graves in a particular cemetery, or search for where a particular person is buried. (But be prepared to get side-tracked. You’ll find an immense amount of interesting information there.)
In addition, we’re including some information about other places near each cemetery that you might want to check out during the same visit.
The cemeteries that we visited aren’t even the tip of the iceberg. But we hope that they will inspire you to research and visit other cemeteries. Do you have a favorite cemetery to visit, or know of an interesting grave in Charlotte? Let us know about it in the comments!
Old Settlers’ Cemetery
- Location: 5th Street, between Church and Poplar Streets
- Earliest burial: 1776
- Parking: Metered street parking
- Nearby: Fourth Ward Park, Discovery Place Science, McGlohon Theater, The Square, all of Uptown
Background, Photos and Interesting Facts
Old Settlers’ Cemetery is Charlotte’s oldest cemetery, and if you’ve spent any time in Uptown you’ve most likely seen it. It’s bounded by 5th and 6th Streets, and Church and Poplar Streets.
Old Settlers’ Cemetery is a welcome patch of green in Uptown, and its shaded, winding paths are favorites with dog-walkers and with stroller-pushing parents, as well as Uptown workers just enjoying a break.
The oldest known burial in Old Settlers’ Cemetery is that of Joel Baldwin, in 1776. The last burial took place in 1884.
One notable historic figure buried here is Thomas Polk (1730-1794), a signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, a member of the Colonial Assembly, and the great-uncle of President James K. Polk.
Also here is Revolutionary War hero Major General George Graham (1758-1826), who fought in the Battle of McIntyre’s Farm (also known as Bradley’s Farm) in 1780. Lord Cornwallis sent a foraging party of 300 British troops from Charlotte into the countryside, up Beatties Ford Road. As they raided McIntyre’s Farm, loading up with farm produce, they disturbed a beehive, and as the British soldiers ran in chaos from the bees, just over a dozen Patriots, who had trailed them, opened fire from under cover. This led to the British believing that they had encountered a much larger force, and they retreated back to Charlotte. This battle is also known as the Battle of the Bees.
Other notable people buried here are Nathaniel Alexander (1756-1808), U.S. Congressman and North Carolina Governor; William Davidson (1778-1857), U.S. Congressman; and William Strange (1804-1867), the first clerk at the Charlotte Mint.
There’s even a marker for a tree here. Look for this oak tree. It was planted by the North Carolina D.A.R. in 1925 in honor of George Washington’s visit to Charlotte in May of 1791. Although he enjoyed dinner at the home of General Thomas Polk, Washington described Charlotte as a “trifling place.” But that was just his opinion.
If you’re looking for specific graves, you’ll find the grave directory and map at the entrance useful.
In addition, outside the cemetery, along 5th Street, there is a sequence of plaques with information that provides some historical context.
In one quarter of the cemetery, slaves are buried, with no markers. Enslaved people were euphemistically described as “our servants.”
- Location: 700 W 6th Street
- Opened: 1853
- Parking: You can drive into the cemetery
- Nearby: AvidXchange Music Factory, Gateway Village
Background, Photos and Interesting Facts
Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery is a few blocks west of Old Settlers’ Cemetery, on the other side of North Graham Street. It is much larger than Old Settlers’ Cemetery, 72 acres, and stretches from 6th Street, past 9th Street, to the edge of the AvidXchange Music Factory. It’s a lot of ground to cover in one day.
Elmwood/Pinewood is really three cemeteries: Elmwood Cemetery in the south, Pinewood Cemetery in the north, and Potter’s Field in between them.
Just as white and black people were separated by Jim Crow laws during their lives, they were also separated in death. Elmwood Cemetery was available only to white people, and Pinewood was for African American people. Potter’s Field, on the edge of Elmwood, was for the burial of white people who couldn’t afford to buy a plot.
Pinewood was separated from Elmwood and Potter’s Field with a chain link fence. Visitors to Pinewood had to enter via 9th Street. There was no gate between the two burial grounds, and at one point there was a “No Trespassing” sign on the fence — a message to those on the Pinewood side to not try to enter into Elmwood.
In 1968, Charlotte’s first black city council member, Fred Alexander, led the fight to remove the fence. In January of 1969 a three-to-three tie in City Council was broken by Mayor Stan R. Brookshire, and the next day the fence was removed.
Today, if you don’t know the history, it might not be immediately obvious where the boundary was between the cemeteries. You can walk or drive between them.
Unsurprisingly, you’ll find more large monuments in Elmwood. As you enter from 6th Street (you can drive or walk in), two interesting monuments are close by.
On the left there’s a large monument honoring Charlotte firemen. It was erected in 1883 by the Volunteer Firemen of Charlotte as a tribute to their fallen comrades.
And to the right is one of the most interesting monuments in Elmwood, the grave marker of John King, an elephant trainer in John Robinson’s circus. He was crushed against a railroad car by one of the elephants, Chief, and killed in 1880. His circus colleagues paid for monument over his grave that says “Erected by the members of John Robinson’s Circus in memory of John King. Killed at Charlotte, NC, on September 22, 1880 by the elephant Chief.” The marker includes a picture of an elephant.
Whereas Old Settlers’ Cemetery is the final resting place of some of the earliest figures in Charlotte’s history, Elmwood is the burial ground for many of the builders of the New South. You’ll see family crypts, obelisks and huge above-ground tombs, a monument to the prosperity that these families enjoyed. Some notable people buried here are D. A. Tompkins (1851-1915), an industrialist who started many cotton oil mills, electric plants and cotton mills, Francis Marion Redd (1876-1956), Charlotte’s mayor from 1927 to 1929, and Julia McGehee Alexander (1876-1957), the first woman elected to the N.C. House of Representatives.
The most visited grave in Elmwood is Randolph Scott (1898-1987), a film actor who was in more than 100 films, including more than 60 Westerns. His grave even shows up on Google Maps.
Look for the grave of S. S. McNinch (1867-1929), two-time mayor of Charlotte. The McNinch House Restaurant, 511 North Church Street, is in the house that he lived in with his family.
Throughout Elmwood, you’ll see many graves with monuments that look like a carved tree stumps. On these you’ll see an insignia that says, “Woodmen of the World.” That marker doesn’t indicate that the deceased was in the lumber industry, or was a wood carver. Woodmen of the World was an insurance company and one of the death benefits was a grave monument.
You’ll even see at least one Woodmen of the World monument that’s in the shape of a log cabin. It’s for Henry Severs (1842-1915), who served as general manager of ABC Board and as chief of the ABC Law Enforcement Division.
In Pinewood, there are fewer large monuments, since most African American people during this time could not afford stone grave markers. Many graves had wooden markers, which have been lost to time. One of the exceptions, though, is the grave of W. W. Smith (1862-1937) who is regarded as Charlotte first black architect. He designed buildings in Charlotte’s black business and culture center of South Brevard Street, and in Livingstone College in Salisbury.
His grave at Pinewood is marked by crypt that is reminiscent in style of his design for the Mecklenburg investment Company Building, built in 1922, and which stands at 233 S. Brevard Street.
Hopewell Presbyterian Church
- Location: 10500 Beatties Ford Road, Huntersville
- Opened: 1762
- Parking: You can park in the church’s parking lot
- Nearby: Latta Nature Preserve, which includes Carolina Raptor Center, Historic Latta Plantation, Latta Nature Center, canoe and kayak launch areas for Mountain Island Lake, and miles of pedestrian and equestrian trails. Also, Historic Rural Hill is under 4 miles away.
Background, Photos and Interesting Facts
Hopewell Presbyterian Church’s cemetery is a who’s who of early Mecklenburg County history, and is the final resting place of numerous Revolutionary War heroes.
The resources below will help you find specific graves, but there’s also a grave directory on site.
The most well-known of all the people in this cemetery is General William Lee Davidson (1746-1781.) He was an important and influential figure in the Revolutionary War until meeting his end at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford. After he was killed, his body was recovered and buried by torchlight that same night at Hopewell. The town of Davidson and Davidson College are named after him.
John McKnitt Alexander (1733-1817) was a signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Alexander Middle School is named in his honor.
Francis Bradley (1743-1780) was one of the leaders of the patriots in Mecklenburg County. The Battle of the Bees took place on his farm, known as McIntyre’s Farm or Bradley’s Farm. He, along with George Graham (see Old Settlers’ Cemetery, above) and a handful of others forced a much larger contingent of British to retreat from the farm, back to Charlotte. He was later killed by a Tory, not in battle, but on his own property. Francis Bradley’s original tombstone is inside the church. It was replaced with a durable granite stone at his grave.
Other notable people buried here are the Latta family, Hugh Torance (1743-1816) and Captain James Knox (1752-1794), the grandfather and namesake of President James K. Polk.
The cemetery also features a monument to the ten Revolutionary War patriots of Hopewell Presbyterian Church, including three who were signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
Hopewell Presbyterian Church Cemetery has one of the largest collection of box markers in North Carolina. Look for the sites that have what look like stone coffins above ground. However, the deceased were not put in these boxes. They’re buried underground.
- Location: 1801 Statesville Avenue
- Opened: 1867
- Parking: You can drive into the cemetery
- Nearby: Directly across the street from Camp North End, a preserved and repurposed historical site that now features food, drink, entertainment and retail. Check out our self-guided mural walking tour of Camp North End.
Background, Photos and Interesting Facts
The first Jewish institution created in Charlotte was the Hebrew Cemetery, in 1867. It wasn’t until 1895 that members of the Charlotte Jewish community would form its first synagogue, Shaarey Israel (Gates of Israel.)
Perhaps the most well-known Charlotte resident buried here is Harry Golden (1902-1981.) Born in the Ukraine, he became one of Charlotte’s most popular writers and an outspoken critic of racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws. He was a reporter for Charlotte Labor Journal and The Charlotte Observer, the founder and publisher of the magazine, “The Carolina Israelite,” and the author of several books, including “Only in America.” A house where Harry Golden lived is part of the self-guided walking tour of Elizabeth that you’ll find here.
You’ll also find the grave of Israeli artist, Nahum Arbel (1926-2010.)
Every grave has a story, and it’s fascinating to learn them. For example, we saw this striking monument for Moses Richter (1900-1969) and Nettie Richter (1889-1974.) It’s a little hard to see in the photograph, but there’s a dark metal sculpture of a tree on top of the stone. Inscribed on the stone is “Build ye houses and dwell in them and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them.”
Curious, we researched Moses Richter, and learned that at just 13 years old, he walked from the Ukraine to Greece, to board a ship for the United States, where he settled in Mount Gilead, between Charlotte and Greensboro. He formed a relationship with local farmers, and went to New York City, where he marketed the southern farmers’ goods.
Eventually he focused on working with peach farmers in the south, selling their goods throughout the country. He became known as the “Peach King.” Today, the company that he formed, Richter and Co., still provides customers with fresh peaches.
Now, look closely at the tree sculpture on the stone. See the peaches?
You might notice that instead of flowers on graves there are stones on the graves and gravestones. There are several different explanations for this Jewish tradition, but the one that resonates the most today is that stones are lasting, like our memories of loved ones.
Some symbols you might find on markers are Jewish stars, birds (usually for women), hands forming a priestly blessing and a lamb (for a young child.)
So far, we’ve focused on what you can see at cemeteries. The monuments, the crypts, the markers, and the words and symbols on the stones.
But it’s just as important to remember the people who have no visible markers–to try to see what you can’t see with your eyes.
Many of the people whose graves we visited, in the above sections, were people who built Charlotte and Mecklenburg County through their political or industrial work. However, enslaved people were just as important — they, too, built Charlotte, but they have no monuments, and usually no tombstones at all.
Often, all we can find, if we’re lucky, is a marker of where a slave cemetery was. Sometimes when new development is being planned, there are signs that a graveyard of enslaved people is on the site, and it has to be further investigated.
Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church
One of the most recent cases was when TopGolf was planning a new location in North Charlotte, and they discovered clues that there was a graveyard of enslaved people adjacent to Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church’s old cemetery, through the opening in the back corner of the stone wall.
Some common physical characteristics of slave graveyards in this area are a level wooded area, a ground cover of periwinkle (it was African American tradition to bring periwinkle to graves), and sometimes graves marked with rocks.
Sometimes there is also archival or anecdotal evidence.
In the case of Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church, the area was proven to be a graveyard by the use of ground penetrating radar testing.
Although the project was halted, to date, there is no marker for the graveyard. Just a carpet of periwinkle leading into the woods.
1600 W Mallard Creek Church Road
Alexander Slave Cemetery
Next to Thornberry Apartments on Mallard Creek Church Road, just northwest of North Tryon Street, you’ll see a plaque that says “W.T. Alexander Plantation (1824-1865) Slave Cemetery.” It goes on to say that it’s Mecklenburg County’s largest known surviving slave cemetery.
The sign says that the cemetery is approximately 800 feet south of the marker. We went looking for it, and we got to where we think the site is, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to find it, because I got attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets.
The report by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, from 1989, said that one carved stone existed at that time, propped up against a tree, for Solomon and Violet Alexander.
The report concluded like this, and the sentiment rings true today:
A site of this significance requires and deserves more care than the present owner is able to give it. In a region of the country where the natives are obsessed with their ancestry and their heritage, it seems incongruous that this burial place of the kindred ancestors of the black community is not recognized for its proper historical significance.
9920 Brickleberry Lane