By Stan Welch
Beth Wilson and Julie Cole of the Williamston Cemetery Committee appeared before Town Council during a work session held last week to request $3500 in funds for repairs at the town’s historic cemetery.
The cemetery was established in 1869, with the burial of Minnie Todd. Ms. Wilson reminded the Council, which was meeting in a work session and received the request as information only, that 59 graves of Confederate soldiers had been identified in 2003. There are almost sixteen hundred gravesites in total in the cemetery.
They added that many of those markers are among the damaged and worn headstones. Fences are also in disrepair and a number of graves have simply sunken over time.
Mayor Rockey Burgess reminded the committee’s representatives that the town annually allocates fifteen hundred dollars to the committee, as well as a special funding of $650 for a Christmas service. That service was cancelled last year due to COVID issues.
One issue is the fact that many family members of those interred in the cemetery no longer live in the area, and do not support the upkeep of the location.
Perhaps more importantly, the fifty thousand dollar endowment that the committee has is restricted by law and cannot be used for normal operations. It does generate interest, which the committee uses; but the town is prohibited by law from maintaining an interest bearing account.
Burgess’s proposed solution is to establish the cemetery committee as a tax exempt 501(c)(3) entity which could then serve as a pass through for possible grant funds, much like the Pelzer Heritage Commission has done in Pelzer. The committee was originally established in the late 70s or early 80s; although a precursor organization, the cemetery corporation, was established in the late 1890s.
In addition to repairs and maintenance, the committee’s long term goal is to map each grave and to determine ownership of any vacant sites. They are seeking estimates on that project currently. The mayor and Council expressed their preference that the committee use the nearly twelve thousand dollars it can access from its account, and offered assurances that if the additional funds are needed, the Council will hear any future requests with a sympathetic ear.