OAK TREE COULD FALL ON CHURCH, HISTORIC GRAVE
High Shoals United Methodist members seek help removing it
HIGH SHOALS, NC - The old cemetery doesn't belong to High Shoals United Methodist Church, but members look after if anyway.
For decades, it has been :a volunteer effort; and now they need help.
The burying ground of 1826 vintage is one of Gaston County's most historic the, final stop for John Fulenwider, Swiss immigrant; Revolutionary War patriot and founder of a local. iron industry that supplied cannonballs to Americans during the War of 1812.
An N.C. historical marker identifies his grave, located in the cemetery on Old U.S. 321 right beside the small church:
Although High .Shoals United Methodist doesn't own the cemetery, which has at least a dozen other grave markers, members mow the grass and pick up litter and large tree limbs. Outoftown Fulenwider relatives used to send money for the services, but their checks and inquiries. stopped coming about 20 years ago, members say.
Meanwhile, the oncethriving church is down to about 36 members, who are mostly elderly. They think it's time for someone to take over the abandoned cemetery, now threatened by the collapse of a 100yearoldplus oak tree.
They estimate it would take thousands of dollars to remove the dead tree, which could fall and uproot Fulenwider's grave and even damage the church building, erected in 1902.
"People have always assumed the cemetery was ours, but it's not," says Charles Alexander, 79; a 40year church member.
"The cemetery is not just about the history of High Shoals," she says. "It's about the history of the whole county and this part of the country. It should be taken care of."
High Shoals Mayor, Pat Yarbrough will ask Gaston commissioners for help with the cemetery's upkeep. She says the financially strapped town of 600: might provide some assistance; but it would. first need an OK from somebody presumably the county:
Wilma Craig of the Gaston Historical Society estimates there are more than 100 abandoned family cemeteries in the county.. Some are maintained by private groups, but others are in bad shape: "They get preserved only when there are people around who give a hoot," she says. "These cemeteries need a lot of tender, loving care and a lot of hard work."
She calls the cemetery keepers from the church unsung heroes. State Rep. Dan Barefoot of Lincolnton mentions John Fulenwider in his book "Touring Revolutionary War Sites in North Carolina." He calls Fulenwider a "very remarkable man, one, of our earliest settlers and a pioneer industrialist."
Gaston Commission Chairman Gene Kimbro says interest in abandoned cemeteries is growing.
Under N.C. statutes, the responsibility for abandoned cemeteries , rests .with counties, but, Kimbro says, "It's a very old law."
The original statute; passed in 1917, authorizes commissioners to appropriate from the general fund of the .county "whatever sums may be necessary" for, preservation of abandoned. cemeteries. It also authorizes appointment of a fivemember board of trustees that can accept gifts and donations for upkeep.
Last year, commissioners appointed a cemetery committee, but the group hasn't held a meeting yet.
Kimbro thinks commissioners would take a close look at the High Shoals cemetery situation and "do whatever we can."
Lincoln County Historical Coordinator Darrell Harkey has volunteered to help preserve the High Shoals cemetery.
The Fulenwider foundry was once inside Lincoln County, and Harkey says the operation played an important role in Lincoln history.
He's planning to check out the cemetery and dead tree. "Maybe we can recruit some labor. I've got a number of people I could call,": Harkey says. "I'll certainily see what I could do about removing the tree."
The big oak towers inside a afoothigh rock wall surrounding John Fulenwider's .large, flat grave marker. Also within the wall is a large holly tree and a tangle of poke weeds and poison ivy where tree frogs and cicadas drone.
Despite their age, the rock wall and gravestone are still impressive testaments to the high regard in which Fulenwider was held in the frontier community. Born in Switzerland in 1756, Fulenwider first settled in Rowan County and got caught up in the Revolutionary War. Fighting on the Patriot side, he took part in the battles of Ramsour's Mill and Kings Mountain. In 1795, Gaston, County's rich iron deposits attracted him and he started the High Shoats Iron Works on the South Fork River. Fulenwider also had furnaces in what is now Lincoln County and transported iron to the South Fork finishing plant in muledrawn carts that rolled along wooden tracks.
During the War of 1812, cannonballs manufactured at his foundry were floated downriver to Charleston for use by American forces. The Fulenwider operation also turned out nails, horseshoes, wagon tires and farm tools.
Fulenwider married Elizabeth Ellis, the aunt of N.C. governor John W. Ellis. They had eight children.
When Fulenwider died in 1826, he owned 20,000 acres in the GastonLincoln area. Over the years, the iron works changed hands and finally shut down after the Civil War.
High Shoals United Methodist Church members will keep doing what they can to make the cemetery look nice.
Says Alexander, "No matter who owns the property, it's still a sacred place."
[Charlotte Observer, Saturday, July 22, 2000, pg. 2B]
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