Piney Grove Cemetery's history depends on its donors

Paul Clark
Asheville Citizen Times

Trustees of Piney Grove Cemetery in Swannanoa would love more financial help in keeping the historic cemetery up.

Some of the Swannanoa Valley’s most historic families are buried in the Piney Grove cemetery.

The nonprofit board charged with overseeing the cemetery sent out its annual newsletter in November asking for donations, board chair Dave Alexander said. The newsletter went to several hundred people throughout the country, he said, and some people responded with money. Those who would still like to help will be helping maintain one of the oldest cemeteries in the Swannanoa Valley, one with a special significance to its history.

The nonprofit organization is “not anywhere near destitute,” said Alexander, and has money for current needs. “But the future is still the future,” he said. The cemetery has no endowment or revenue outside its donor base.

Buried at Piney Grove Cemetery are the Davidsons, Pattons, Alexanders, Connellys, Stepps and Burnetts who played significant roles in the Valley’s history, as well as Buncombe County’s. Piney Grove Cemetery contains the graves of veterans of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and modern military conflicts.

“One of the things that put us at somewhat of disadvantage to other cemeteries is that we do not have any real estate to sell,” Alexander said (the cemetery has no plots to sell). “Our only charge is to maintain the cemetery for the historical place that it actually is. There are individuals that are buried there whose history dates back to the Indian Wars. So it’s quite a historic site.

“We’re charged with keeping things in order. It’s a labor of love for a lot of us because we have ancestors and family members buried there, and family members who will be buried there.”

In 2014, First Presbyterian Church of Swannanoa beside the cemetery celebrated its 220th anniversary. It also closed, leaving the cemetery without care. “Like a lot of other institutions, there was attribution, and time sort of caught up with it,” Alexander said. “Young people move away.”

The church, including playground and parking lot, is for sale. It is owned by the Presbytery of Western North Carolina which, Alexander understands, will turn the cemetery over to the nonprofit board’s trustees if and when the church is sold.

There are about 1,800 gravesites in the cemetery. Some of the stones are no longer legible, but the oldest is believed to date from the 1820s, Alexander said. The church was founded in 1794 and was on Patton Cemetery Road in Swannanoa before moving to its current site around the turn of the 19th century. The existing church is the third or fourth on the site, Alexander said.

The board hopes that volunteers will one day give cemetery tours. Alexander and trustee Steve Hansel from time to time get calls from someone who wants their help locating a relative’s grave (there is a directory on site, too, but it’s not complete).

It's important to preserve the cemetery for the Valley’s history, Alexander said. “If you don’t know where you’ve been, it’s pretty had to know where you’re going to go,” he said. “It’s very instructive to young people to get a sense of history and ‘place’ and how things were.”


Help the cemetery

Make checks payable to Piney Grove Cemetery, Inc., and mail to PO Box 216, Swannanoa, NC 28778.