Details: 200 W. Fifth St.; founded about 1774; maintained by the city.
For the record, Settlers’ Cemetery is not a dog park.
Lots of people walk dogs there. It’s one of the best green spaces uptown.
But Linda Dalton, 61, president of the Mecklenburg Historic Association and one of the people who worked on the restoration of Settlers’ in the late 1990s, shuddered when she went on a recent ghost walk and a guide claimed “the city turned it into a dog park.”
That massive public-private project saved Settlers’, rescuing 200-year-old markers and putting in signs to help people understand the place. Jim Williams, 73, secretary-treasurer of the historic association, even got down on his knees to remortar crumbling brickwork.
“It has families that were ‘first’ families,” says Williams, a Revolutionary War re-enactor who moved here from Ohio in 1969.
Work on Settlers’ is still going on, says Dalton. The historical association has a new project to add signs with QR codes, so you could stand at a grave and use your phone to hear the stories of people such as Thomas Polk.
“It tells the story of the people who made Charlotte a reality,” she says. “I just hope there’s somebody in the next generation who’ll take care of it.”
Details: 700 W. Sixth St.; founded 1853; owned by the city; no spaces are available.
There is so much to explore in Elmwood, some people make it a hobby.
Bill Hart and Paul Buckley are both fans of the sprawling cemetery that started in 1856.
“This is the most historically significant cemetery in the country, including Arlington,” says Hart.
Some of his case for that: The large family plot of John Wilkes, who owned the iron works that became the Confederate Navy Yard. His father, Charles Wilkes, led the expedition that discovered Antarctica, and his great-aunt was Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born woman canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
Harriet Morrison Irwin was the first woman to get a patent for architectural design. Hart calls her “the originator of ergonomics.” Nearby, Julia Alexander was the first female lawyer and mayoral candidate in Charlotte.
There’s actor Randolph Scott’s grave and two circus graves – handler John King, killed by the rampaging elephant Chief in 1880, and Charles Houck, killed by a lion in 1930.
Even the setting may be historic. Buckley says the land was originally bought to be a gold mine. The earliest map of Charlotte shows two lakes on the Sixth Street side that may have been sloughs, for panning.
One of Hart’s favorite spots is a cluster of graves around a small fountain: When Spanish influenza swept through the Camp Greene Army base in 1918, a group of women got the city to give them a plot to bury the unclaimed bodies of young soldiers.
“That’s a real testament to the benevolent nature of people in this area,” he says.
Details: 1612 Oaklawn Ave.; founded 1915. Deeded to the city in 1956.
If you want to see a cemetery that looks like a park, drive under Oaklawn’s massive trees.
Two things stand out: One is the Oaklawn Mausoleum, a large granite building with a copper dome. It dates to the 1920s and is maintained by a private association. It’s kept closed, but the interior includes marble and stained glass.
The second is the location of the city’s area for indigent burial.
Although potter’s fields are a very old tradition, people don’t like to use the phrase today.
“We don’t want to devalue anyone,” says Lorraine Ramsey, the administrative officer for the city’s cemetery division.
However, there are areas provided for families who can’t afford a burial. Elmwood had several areas that were designated on early maps, including Section AA, at the back beside Interstate 77, which used to be called Babyland on city maps. Until the early 1990s, it was for infants whose families couldn’t afford a burial plot.
Today, indigent people of all ages are buried in Oaklawn, mostly in Section 11.
Catholic Charities works with the city to provide burial assistance for people of all faiths.
Sharon Davis, the regional office director for Catholic Charities, says they help with about 100 burials a year.
“You think about feeding people or people needing shelter,” she says. “But this need is so great and it’s often hidden. Every family has said, ‘without this, we don’t know what we would have done.’ ”
The three Pinewoods
Details: Ninth Street Pinewood, 700 W. Sixth St. (behind Elmwood), founded 1853; plus North Pinewood, at North Summit Avenue and Andrill Terrace, founded 1965; and West Pinewood at North Summit and Cemetery Street, founded about 1935. Owned by the city; only North Pinewood is active.
Most students of Charlotte history know about Pinewood: During segregation, a fence separated the white cemetery, Elmwood, from the black cemetery, Pinewood. It was taken down in 1969.
If you drive to the back of Elmwood, it’s easy to spot where the fence stood: There is a row of trees, once planted along the fence, and there are no gutters by the roads.
Less well-known is that there are two more Pinewood cemeteries, North Pinewood and West Pinewood, in the hills to the west and across I-77, near the Johnson C. Smith University sports complex.
Kelly Alexander of Alexander Funeral Home thinks the land for both may date to the same time when Hebrew Cemetery started nearby. But he’s not sure why they are separate from the rest of Pinewood.
“I remember them being like that forever,” he says. “Visually and linearly, they line up with Elmwood if you look.”
The Greek area at Evergreen Cemetery
Details: 4426 Central Ave.; opened about 1946; owned by the city.
Charlotte’s tight-knit Greek community is so much a part of the city, it has its own area of Evergreen Cemetery, with tall markers topped with crosses and decked out with colorful flowers in vases.
Charlotte native Bett Kofinas, 90, remembers it was in the mid-1950s when a Greek Orthodox priest suggested families buy plots in the new Evergreen.
Today, the names are a roster of Charlotte restaurant history: Stassino, Kastanas, Economy, Kokenes, Nixon.
Kofinas’ late husband, Tommy, is there. The Kofinases owned a popular restaurant on Trade Street until the early 1980s.
In the Greek Orthodox tradition, you visit a cemetery regularly – on saints days, birthdays and holidays.
“Every time I go out there, there’s somebody there,” says Bett Kofinas.
Details: 1801 Statesville Ave.; founded 1867; owned by a nonprofit.
You wouldn’t expect to find one of Charlotte’s most historic cemeteries across from an old factory north of uptown. A graceful iron gate with a Star of David marks the entrance to Hebrew Cemetery, where the names on markers are a litany of Charlotte history: Blumenthal, Levine, Rousso, Golden.
“This cemetery has gone through evolutions,” says director Sandra Goldman. “There’ve been times when the grass was up to your thighs.”
Right now is a good time in its evolution: A board of directors is committed to caring for it, and a new memorial building, centered on the old marble ark from Temple Beth El, will be finished this winter.
When the city started Elmwood Cemetery in 1867, it was supposed to have an area for “Israelites.” But Charlotte’s Jewish community didn’t want that. A group of businessmen, the Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded a cemetery shortly after.
“In Judaism, before a synagogue, before a school, you establish a cemetery,” says Goldman. “That’s the first thing.”
At Hebrew, many markers have rocks lined up on top, because when you visit a grave, you’re supposed to leave a stone. In the Orthodox section, caskets are lowered with ropes instead of machinery.
Mixed couples can be buried there, and they take ashes, even though Jewish law forbids cremation.
“It’s a very emotional place, full of memories and pain and sorrow,” says Goldman. “I love coming out here. It’s weird. But I love it. A handful of people, so long ago, thinking so far ahead.”
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