High atop a knobby bald in central Haywood County sits lonely Dix Hill Cemetery, just yards from Jones Temple AME Zion Church in the heart of Waynesville’s historically African-American Pigeon Street community.
From frost-churned fields on steep hills above shadow-soaked coves spring mossy fieldstones, hopelessly eroded and only becoming more so, season by season.
Some of Western North Carolina’s greatest historical assets are in cemeteries.
They serve as the final resting place to founding families, Civil War soldiers, decorated military officers, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other historic figures that helped shape this region over two centuries. Maintaining these cemeteries — some of which date back to the early 1800s — is becoming a bigger burden for the few who still see the value in preserving a part of the past.
Abandoned, dilapidated and sometimes forgotten burial places are likely to get better care now that Macon County commissioners have decided to form a cemetery board.
It is a day Lawrence Hyatt looks forward to all year — venturing into the Smokies backcountry to pay homage at the graves of early settlers who lived there.
“I am developing a taste for walking in cemeteries.”
– Jules Renard, “Journals” (December 1909)
Like Jules Renard, a turn-of-the-century French novelist, not a few of us are attracted to cemeteries. When looking for a quiet place, I often visit the one on Schoolhouse Hill next to the old Swain High football field in Bryson City. There’s a good view, in places, of the town and surrounding mountains. A grove of massive oaks shade the burying ground. It’s a good spot to have lunch.
The dead lay in indiscernible rows beneath the earth, their resting places marked by a jumble of faded and often illegible stone markers — the most distinguishable carrying etched dates and names, but the most nondescript void of any writing and covered in a thin layer of moss.