After months of planning and hard work, Russell Grevera was presented with his Eagle Scout badge last week for his leadership in re-establishing a long forgotten historic cemetery in SouthPark.
Now members with the Historic Landmarks commission are working to make sure the cemetery for Mecklenburg County’s first black Presbyterian church, St. Lloyd Presbyterian Church, is never again forgotten.
“It’s been transformed, if you will, into sort of a commemorative park,” said Dan Morrill, a history professor at UNC Charlotte and the consulting director for the Historic Landmarks Commission. “It’s really uplifting. This Eagle Scout should be commended for what he did.”
Morrill added that the Historic Landmarks Commission has discussed in recent months putting a street marker on Colony Road to highlight the park’s significance. It is unclear how far along the commission is in that process.
In February 2012, South Charlotte News wrote about the 2-acre cemetery that had become overgrown and unrecognizable.
A UNC Charlotte graduate student, along with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, released a report in 2005 about the cemetery’s historical significance.
In 1867, two years after the Civil War ended, a group of freed slaves and black members of Sharon Presbyterian Church marked their freedom by establishing their own church, which came to be known as St. Lloyd Presbyterian Church.
The next year, the church purchased the land where the cemetery now sits along Colony Road for $25.
After several decades, the church sold its land to a former governor, Cameron Morrison, and relocated to Grier Heights. The newly relocated church disbanded a while later.
The church cemetery off Colony Road, which is home to about 78 graves, remained.
“The cemetery was so neglected. I think about those people that lived out in this area and built this church and to let it get overgrown like that, it was not a pleasant thing,” said Mary Ruth Caldwell Gibson, who has lived on Sharon Road since she was born.
Tom Hanchett, the staff historian of the Levine Museum of the New South, said it’s not uncommon for cemeteries to be forgotten once the church it’s associated with has disbanded or moved.
“Cemeteries seem like they are for the ages but in reality, the cemetery is connected to a particular community,” he said. “It remains alive as long as that community remains alive. When that community leaves and the people are no longer there, cemeteries become orphans.”
That was something that Grevera, 17, was not willing to overlook.
When the junior from South Mecklenburg High School read the article about the cemetery, he knew it was the Eagle Scout project he wanted.
“I’m extremely proud of his efforts and taking on such a large project,” said Russell Grevera’s father, Mark. “And we both learned so much along the way and it’s exciting to see something like that in the heart of the city preserved. Hopefully we’ll see that become a neighborhood asset.”
Through coordinating with land owner Grubb Preservation Foundation as well as the Historic Landmarks Commission, Russell Grevera and his helpers worked throughout the summer to re-establish the cemetery.
They cut back overgrown vegetation, created a stone border, established walking paths through the cemetery and placed benches along those paths.
They also installed a granite marker that explains the historical significance of the cemetery.
“It was a very unique project in that it had the historical side,” Russell Grevera said. “It was definitely a good experience.”
Hanchett said he was impressed with Russell Grevera’s efforts and encouraged residents to stop by the cemetery.
“In a city that has destroyed so much of the physical reminders of its history, safe guarding something like that cemetery is really important,” he said. “That young man is someone after my own heart. That concern for making the past part of our present is something that makes us a richer community.”