Harwood buys Mountain View cemetery

Paul Clark

Harwood Home for Funerals has bought Mountain View Memorial Park, a Black Mountain cemetery. Some 2,000 people are buried there.

Rick Harwood of Harwood Home for Funerals said owners of lots there should get in touch so the funeral home can make sure their purchases have been correctly recorded. “We know there are probably families that are owed rights of easement that have not received them,” he said. “We need to get in touch with those people.”

The funeral home bought the cemetery in November from Terry Brigman, according to the N.C. Cemetery Commission. In 2012, Brigman’s Valley Funeral Service in Black Mountain was sold on the Buncombe County courthouse steps to William Tracy Wilson, who owned the now-shuttered Wilson Family Funeral Service in town. On Dec. 9, the N.C. Board of Funeral Service revoked Wilson’s license to operate a funeral home.

In Mountain View Memorial Park’s 2012 annual report, Wilson claimed to be its owner, according to the N.C. Cemetery Commission. But he wasn’t, said Gantt Stephens, the commission’s president. Because the legal transfer had not gone through, the owner was still Brigman.

In October 2014, the cemetery commission stated in its minutes that Mountain View Memorial Park, then owned by Brigman, had been “an ongoing problem.” The commission stated it had recently learned that the cemetery was in bankruptcy and was being auctioned off.

“There are many issues with the cemetery trust accounts,” the commission’s minutes state. “The cemetery has failed to file reports; they have not paid the cemetery license renewal and have ignored 20-day letters requesting compliance.”

Stephens said the cemetery had failed to deposit $14,389 of client money to its perpetual care trust fund, as required by law. It had also not placed $3,339 in the trust fund that pays for goods and services such as vaults, memorials and grave openings and closings, Stephens said.

There was also confusion as to who owned the cemetery, the commission stated in its minutes. “There have been three changes of ownership since Madge Milavich owned Mountain View, but none of those changes have been approved with the commission,” its minutes state. The commission voted unanimously to seek a permanent injunction against the cemetery “with the intention of a new owner taking control of Mountain View Memorial Park.”

N.C. Cemetery Commission minutes from January 2015 state that the commission had filed suit seeking an injunction against Mountain View Memorial Park.

“There were complaints about the grounds, and some customers were unsatisfied with what they were told about pricing,” Nathan Morris of the cemetery commission said last week.

Wilson told The Black Mountain News last year that he surrendered his license to operate a funeral service on May 20. He said he bought the business in November 2012. He said many of the alleged problems predated his ownership.

Mountain View Memorial Park was created by Ray Harrison, the owner of the old Harrison Funeral Home in Black Mountain, Harwood said. After a few changes in ownership, including that of a corporation, Mountain View has come “full circle” by being family-owned and operated once again, Harwood said.

The 14-acre cemetery was in “not very good” condition when he bought it, he said. It was overgrown and had several trees and shrubs that needed to be taken out.

Harwood said he has already made several improvements, such as righting listing monuments and clearing about 2.5 acres for an additional 2,000-3,000 plots. He said he is considering adding cremation memorial gardens.