and Research Report
and location of the property: The property known as the Elmwood Cemetery is located on the 700
block of West 6th Street in Charlotte, NC.
and address of the current owner of the property:
The present owner of the
East 4th Street
photographs of the property: This
report contains representative photographs of the property.
map depicting the location of the property: This
report contains a map depicting the location of the property.
deed book reference to the property: The
most recent deed on the property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed
Book 1114, page 249. The
tax parcel number for the property is 078-13-104.
brief historical sketch of the property:
report contains a historical sketch of the property prepared by Emily
brief architectural description of the property:
report contains a brief architectural description of the property
prepared by Emily D. Ramsey.
of why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for
designation set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-400.5.
a. Special significance in
terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural importance.
The Commission believes that Elmwood Cemetery does possess special
historical significance for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. It
bases its judgment on the following considerations.
Elmwood Cemetery - originally opened in 1853 as a 100-acre plot
that included Pinewood Cemetery, a segregated African American cemetery,
and Potter’s Field, a pauper’s cemetery - forms one of Charlotte’s
oldest public cemeteries.
The Elmwood Cemetery, like all graveyards, is a reflection of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural history from the mid-nineteenth century
to the present. Elmwood
contains the graves of some of Charlotte’s most important citizens –
textile pioneer D.A. Tompkins, developer Edward Dilworth Latta, former
Charlotte mayor S. S. McNinch, and W.W. Smith, Charlotte’s first major
black architect, are among the hundreds of New South entrepreneurs,
builders, political and religious figures buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Cemetery, located in the heart of Charlotte’s center city, formed an
integral part of the urban landscape at a time when cemeteries served not
only as places for interment but as important public green spaces.
Elmwood/Pinewood cemetery complex was the center of a civil rights
controversy in the late 1960s, when city councilman Fred Alexander
spearheaded a successful campaign to bring down the chain link fence
separating all-white Elmwood from all-black Pinewood.
of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association.
The Commission judges that the architectural description completed by
Emily D. Ramsey indicates that Elmwood Cemetery meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax
Appraisal: The Commission
is aware that designation would allow the
owner to apply for an automatic deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on
all or any portion of the property which becomes a designated
"historic landmark." The current appraised value of the
71.864 acres of land that encompasses Elmwood Cemetery is $6,260,790.00.
of Preparation of this Report:
May 13, 2001
Emily D. Ramsey
745 Georgia Trail
Elmwood Cemetery is a property that possesses local historic
significance as one of the oldest and largest public cemeteries in
Charlotte and as a reflection of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s
nineteenth-and-twentieth-century cultural heritage.1
The cemetery, a 72-acre plot of rolling green space in the heart of
Charlotte, first opened in 1853. Some
of Charlotte’s most important citizens purchased family plots during the
late 1800s and early 1900s, and Elmwood now contains the remains of such
men as developer Edward Dilworth Latta, textile entrepreneur D. A.
Tompkins, former Charlotte mayor S. S. McNinch, and W. W. Smith,
Charlotte’s first black architect.
The graves of such important Charlotte-Mecklenburg citizens,
alongside the thousands of others who lived, worked, worshipped and died
in Mecklenburg County, make Elmwood an important historical and cultural
resource. The intricacies of
the gravestones themselves, the arrangement of family members within a
plot and of plots within the cemetery, all give clues to the values and
beliefs of specific persons within the Charlotte community and of the
community as a whole.
cabin" iconography of the frontier could even mark a resting
place after death.
Elmwood Cemetery is also
significant as an integral part of the center city’s urban landscape.
Like many urban cemeteries in the nineteenth century, Elmwood
served as a place of respite for the living as well as the dead.
Elmwood’s strategic location and neatly kept, shady lawns
attracted many Charlotteans looking for a place in town to take their
family walks and Sunday picnics. As
one of the only green spaces remaining in the heart of center city
Charlotte, Elmwood still serves as a place for residents and workers
seeking relief from the noise and bustle of the city.
Marker Honoring Charlotte Firemen
Elmwood Cemetery also serves as a representation of the increasing racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity of a
New South city throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries while remaining a tangible reminder of the system of segregation
that characterized the South until the middle of the twentieth century. Although the graves of African Americans and Confederate
veterans, Charlotte’s poorest citizens along with many of its
wealthiest, are all included among those interred at Elmwood, the
separation of black and white graves into two completely segregated
cemeteries (Elmwood was white, Pinewood, black, physically separated by a
chain fence) made the Elmwood Cemetery complex
the center of a controversial local civil rights campaign during
the late 1960s.
Historical Background Statement
still far from the regionally important New South city it would become by
the early twentieth century, Charlotte had already risen above other small
towns in the piedmont of North Carolina in the years preceding the Civil
War. As historian Thomas Hanchett writes, “Two events lifted
Charlotte outs of its minor place on the periphery of the plantation
economy . . . . the discovery
of gold in 1799 and the coming of the railroad in 1852.”2
Charlotte became the home of a branch of the United States Mint in
1836, and with the completion of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad
(one of the first railroads to penetrate the western region of North
Carolina) in 1852, the city became a regional trading center and a magnet
for miners, merchants, bankers, and cotton traders.
As more and more people settled in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area,
the need for a large public cemetery became apparent.
Settlers Cemetery on W. Fifth Street, the first and only municipal
burial ground in Charlotte at the time, was rapidly reaching its maximum
capacity, and more people than ever were living and dying in Charlotte and
Mecklenburg County. In 1853, the city purchased the first of several tracts of
land that would eventually make up Elmwood (for whites), Pinewood (for
African Americans), and Potter’s Field (set aside for those who could
not afford a cemetery plot). Two
years later, the “New Cemetery,” as it was called, accommodated its
first burial, supposedly a child of Mr. William Beattie.3
Although the cemetery opened before the Civil War, Elmwood lots did
not begin selling at a brisk pace until after the war – a reflection of
Charlotte’s rapid development in the New South era.
Charlotte’s first textile enterprise, the Charlotte Cotton
opened in 1880 and was quickly followed by several others, including the
Alpha Cotton Mill, the Victor Mill and the Ada Mill.
These cotton manufacturing ventures attracted related businesses,
and by the mid-1880s, the town of Charlotte had become “a little city with big
city ambitions.”4 In 1889,
city leaders, fearful that the cemetery was “too small for the
requirements of the rapidly growing city,” purchased a fifty-five acre
tract adjoining the cemetery from James Erwin.5
Confederate Memorial at Elmwood Cemetery
Although only about
one-and-one-half acres had been laid out in lots by 1891, the cemetery was
already being prepared for public use – not only as a cemetery but also
as a park. The Charlotte
Chronicle reported in 1891 that on the “lower part of the grounds, which
will not be needed for burial purposes for some time to come, good wide
roads have been laid, affording pleasant rides for the citizens.”6
The city also constructed a bathing pool, “150 feet long, 80 feet
wide, through which the creek flows, keeping it pure and healthy.”7
Such dual usage was not uncommon in the nineteenth century, when
urban cemeteries often served as public green space as well as burial
ground. Elmwood remains an
integral part of Charlotte’s urban landscape as one of the few public
green spaces within the center city.
Even today, the cemetery continues to attract workers and residents
seeking a quiet, shady respite from the bustle and noise of center city
By 1947, all of the plots in Elmwood and Pinewood had been
sold. While Settlers Cemetery
contains the bodies of Charlotte’s oldest families - Revolutionary
heroes, signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and
leaders in local, state, and national antebellum politics, Elmwood is the
resting place of Charlotte’s New South pioneers.
D. A. Tompkins and Edward Dilworth Latta, among the first and most
influential of Charlotte’s New South leaders, are buried in Elmwood.
Political leaders such as former Charlotte mayor S. S. McNinch,
architects William H. Peeps and W. W. Smith (Charlotte’s first black
architect), religious and community leaders such as A. M. E. Zion Bishop
Thomas H. Lomax and Caesar Blake, Imperial Potentate of the Ancient
Egyptian Arabic Order and leader of Negro Shriners throughout the 1920s,
and businessmen like John Price Carr and Vinton Liddell, are also among
the more than fifty thousand people buried at Elmwood.
All were essential to Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s exponential
late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century economic growth and cultural
development, during which Charlotte emerged as the state’s largest city
and the heart of a large and profitable textile manufacturing region that
covered North and South Carolina as well as large parts of Tennessee and
Landscaping and Funerary Art in
“An old graveyard,” writes historian M. Ruth Little,
“is a cultural encyclopedia.”9 The
size, shape and design of a gravestone, the inscription carved into
stone, concrete, brick or wood, the arrangement of graves within a
family plot and the arrangement of plots within a cemetery - such
seemingly mundane details are the most vivid reminders of a community’s
culture and the values and beliefs of the people who lived and died there.
Although the landscape
designer is not known (a 1906 map credits only “the Office of the City
Engineer”), Elmwood’s white cemetery unfolds in a methodically planned
way – a visitor to the cemetery, entering at the West Sixth Street
entrance, is greeted first by the cemetery’s most impressive, elaborate
and beautiful grave markers, shaded by large, mature hardwoods and dotted
with cypress trees, boxwoods, and flowering shrubs.10
Sections A, B, and C, among the first sections to be laid out in
Elmwood and perhaps the most deliberately designed, are the only circular
sections within the cemetery. As one moves East through the more rigid but still
thoughtfully landscaped portions located in the middle of the cemetery,
the gently curving driveways give way to the linear, almost grid-like
planning of Elmwood’s Eastern side.
Pinewood Cemetery, in contrast, is obviously an organic burial
ground. Although the African American cemetery is shaded by an
abundance of mature hardwood trees, the family plots are laid out
seemingly arbitrarily, and, since many African Americans could not afford
expensive stone grave markers (often erecting simple wooden markers
instead), many of the graves at Pinewood cannot be seen or identified by
the average observer.
diverse array of funerary art attests to the diversity of the people
buried within the cemetery. The
Baroque or Neoclassical headstone – most often carved from marble,
granite, or local stone – is the most common type of grave marker,
particularly in the Eastern portions of the cemetery.
These headstones vary greatly in size, shape, and intricacy of
detailing, depending upon the wealth of the family or organization that
commissioned the stone. Although among the simplest of grave marker styles, the shape,
decoration and inscription of a headstone often reveals a great deal about
the person buried beneath it. Lambs
and cherubs sit atop the graves of small children; blooming roses indicate
the death of a young person, someone who died while in the prime of their
life. The headstones of
Charlotte’s Greek citizens are decorated with the Greek orthodox cross
and often feature a picture of the deceased, secured directly to the
stone. Many members of the
organization the Woodmen of the World were honored after death with a
tombstone intricately carved in the shape of a log or configuration of
several logs - several examples of this type of headstone stand in
Elmwood. Members of a Masonic
order often chose to inscribe their tombstones with the compass and the
square, the symbol of a Mason. A
stone commemorating World War I Veterans from Camp Greene features the
symbol of the American Legion. In
many of Elmwood’s plots, family members share a large common headstone,
with individual names and dates inscribed on plain, flat footstones.
the most famous grave marker in Elmwood belongs to John King, performer and
elephant trainer in John Robinson’s Circus.
King was killed in 1880, crushed against one of the circus’s
railroad cars by “Chief,” one of his elephants. The Charlotte Observer covered the sensational accident in detail,
reporting how “the enraged animal turn[ed] upon his keeper and crush[ed]
him against the car. King
sank to the ground without a groan and the men who were with him fled
precipitately. The crowd
scattered up Trade Street and the wildest confusion followed.”11
John King’s fellow circus performers commissioned the monument
over John King’s grave in section A of Elmwood –
the small obelisk-shaped marker is inscribed with the image of an
elephant and these words: “Erected By the · members of · John
Robinson’s Circus · in memory of · JOHN KING · Killed at Charlotte ·
N.C., Sept 22, 1880 · by the elephant CHIEF · may his soul rest in
Among the most
impressive of Elmwood’s monuments are the Neoclassical-inspired
obelisks, the massive above-ground box tombs, and the temple-like family
crypts that crowd the Western half of the white cemetery. These grave markers overwhelmingly represent
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s New South elite.
A large obelisk marks D. A. Tompkins’s resting place, while Edward
Dilworth Latta is entombed, along with his wife and son, in an elaborate
crypt, with a pedimented façade and large stained glass window in the
rear. The oldest sections of
Elmwood, with these imposing types of monuments – the staggered heights
of the upright obelisks and the lower but substantial box tombs – mimic
Charlotte’s twentieth century skyline, with its foundation of early
manufacturing and textile buildings in brick and stone, punctured by the
glass and metal and dizzying height of modern day skyscrapers.
Although such expressions of wealth and prestige are less abundant
in Pinewood, the African American cemetery contains several unique and
impressive monuments. The
crypt of W. W. Smith, Charlotte’s first black architect, is among the
most unusual and personal grave markers in the Elmwood Cemetery complex.
The crypt, a simple front-gable structure, is covered in Smith’s
distinctive style of brickwork. The
yellow brick elevations are dotted with contrasting red brick, and more
red brick is laid in a diamond pattern across the building’s side
elevations and across the rear. A
plain wooden door, painted red and crowned with the word “SMITH” in
simple red brick lettering, dominates the front of the crypt.
The crypt, modeled closely on Smith’s design for the Mecklenburg
Investment Company Building on South Brevard Street, is an homage to one
of Charlotte’s most heralded twentieth century African American
Among the most moving of Elmwood’s grave markers are the
statues of women in mourning. These
poignant monuments were most often erected by grieving widowers for their
deceased wives. By far the
most artistically rendered of these statues kneels atop the grave of Mary
Norcott London, wife of Edwin Thomas Cansler, Jr, who died in 1919 at the
tender age of 24. The marble
female figure, draped from head to toe in flowing cloth, poises on the
verge of apparent collapse on a low, square marble base, one leg tucked
beneath her. Her left hand covers her face, while her right hand, hanging
limply in front of her, dangles a bouquet of roses – a symbol of one who
has died in the full bloom of life. The
statue’s intricately carved details – the wisps of hair that blow back
across the figure’s cheek, the realistically rendered hands and folds of
cloth draping down the back of the statue’s base – bring to life the
grief of a young husband for a young bride who died nearly one hundred
and the Mark of Jim Crow In Elmwood Cemetery
Elmwood Cemetery’s landscape design also tells the
story of racial divisions
within Charlotte-Mecklenburg, divisions that were strictly upheld
throughout the South until the middle of the twentieth century.
The Elmwood Cemetery complex was, from its inception, a combination
of three distinctly separate burial grounds: Elmwood Cemetery, containing
plots available for sale only to white citizens; Pinewood Cemetery, with
plots available only to paying African Americans; and Potter’s Field, a
plot of land owned by the city and used exclusively for the burial of
white citizens who could not afford to purchase a plot.
While Potter’s Field was placed on the edge but still within the
boundaries of all-white Elmwood, Pinewood Cemetery was designed as a
completely separate burial ground. No roads connected Elmwood and Pinewood, and Pinewood could
not be accessed by the main entrance to Elmwood on Sixth Street –
African Americans used an entrance on Ninth Street to enter Pinewood,
which had no paved streets and no peripheral fencing until the middle of
the twentieth century. The
system of strict racial segregation set up under the Jim Crow laws
of the early decades of the twentieth century dictated not only where
African Americans could work, eat, shop, and socialize, but also where
they could bury their dead. To
emphasize the boundaries between the already segregated Elmwood and
Pinewood cemeteries, a fence was erected in the 1930s between the two
burial grounds. At one point, a “No Trespassing” sign was added to the
fence, its warning addressing visitors to Elmwood.
|Fred Alexander watches
the fence separating Elmwood Cemetery and Pinewood Cemetery being
removed in January 1969.
after the city of Charlotte voted against discrimination in the sale of
cemetery plots, the fence between Elmwood and Pinewood continued to stand
as a symbol of racial discrimination.
Finally, in the late 1960s, empowered by the successes of the
African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, black
Charlotteans began a crusade to bring the fence down.
Leading the fight was Fred
Alexander, Charlotte’s first black
city councilman and the political voice of African Americans in Charlotte.
During the spring, summer and fall of 1968, Alexander argued the
case for voluntary removal of the fence, fighting a white majority
opposition within the City Council until January of 1969, when “Mayor
Stan R. Brookshire broke a three-to-three tie in the Council.”13
The next day, the fence was removed by the Mecklenburg Jaycees, an
African American boys organization whose members had volunteered
repeatedly before the City Council to remove the fence.
“This fence,” Alexander told Charlotte
News reporters as he watched the fence come down, “has always been
an insult to Negroes. It
didn’t mean anything to white folks, but when I was a little boy, I used
to come here and see this and to me it was just the worst thing in the
With the removal of the fence
between Pinewood and Elmwood, the Elmwood
Cemetery complex became, essentially, one burial ground.
Roads now connect the two cemeteries
– although the Ninth Street entrance is still open, visitors can walk or
drive through either entrance and access Elmwood and Pinewood.
With almost 150 years of funerary art and cultural, economic, and
social history in its shady, lush acreage, the Elmwood Cemetery remains a
significant part of center city Charlotte and a reflection of
Charlotte’s development as a shining example of a New South City.
For the purpose of this report, “Elmwood Cemetery” is used to
denote the entire Elmwood Cemetery complex – including Pinewood
Cemetery and Potter’s Field – unless otherwise specified.
The Survey Committee of the Historic Landmarks Commission requested
that two clarifications be made with respect to this property.
The brick keeper's house was constructed in 1935. The
construction of I-77 did create some isolated graves in Pinewood
Cemetery. Both are included in the prospective landmark.
Thomas W. Hanchett, “The Growth of Charlotte: A History”
(Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission).
William H. Huffman, “Survey and Research Report on the Old
Settlers Cemetery” (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks
Commission, 1984). Charlotte Chronicle, “Elmwood Cemetery: Some Facts About It Which
the Public is Probably Not Aware of,” March 8, 1891, p. 4.
Settlers Cemetery was officially closed on April 29, 1867.
Hanchett, “The Growth of Charlotte: A History.”
“Elmwood Cemetery,” March 8, 1891.
Miller's Official Charlotte, N.C., City Directory.
(Asheville: The Miller Press, 1929).
M. Ruth Little, Sticks
and Stones: Three Centuries of North Carolina Gravemarkers (University
of North Carolina Press, 1998) p. 3.
“Map of Elmwood Cemetery, showing Driveways and Sections, completed
January 31, 1906 , Office of City Engineer” (Cemetery Records,
Carolina Room of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg
County. The map lists
thirty-four sections, including Potters field, in Elmwood; Pinewood
Cemetery is listed, but not in detail.
Although a driveway does originate at W. Sixth Street, the
original notation does not pinpoint this as the main entrance.
The words “Main Entrance 700 W. 6th St.” were
added later, along with an arrow pointing the Sixth Street entrance.
I-77 has also been added to the map.
The Charlotte Observer, “A
Made Elephant Crushes His Keepers and Escapes From the Car,” September
28, 1880, p. 3.
John King’s grave is located near the southeastern edge of Section A
The Charlotte News, “The
Fence: Alexander Beams,
Symbol Comes Down,” January
Charlotte News, “Drive To Remove Fence Not Over,” July 2,
The Charlotte News, “The
Fence,” January 1969.
The Charlotte News, “Jaycees Volunteer Again To Remove Cemetery
Fence,” September 23, 1968.