A few weeks ago Facebook user Tim Bray posted an intriguing photo on the Abandoned, Old, and Interesting Places in South Carolina group. The photo was of a statue on the grave of “Little Earle” Martin, located in the Laurens City Cemetery. As I read Tim’s descriptions of his visit, I realized that even though I’d grown up in Laurens County, I had never visited that cemetery. It was high time to check it out, and that opportunity finally came on Friday of this week.
All week the sky was a hazy shade of winter. Friday was the first clear day to lighten our moods in quite awhile. Makes sense that we’d go on a cemetery ramble. That wasn’t our first intent, though. Sister Glynda had just returned from Florida visiting grandkids. She had stayed at our house the night before, and I drove her home that morning. The heat had been off while she was gone, so we decided to go for a drive while the house warmed up. Laurens is only ten miles from Gray Court, so it looked like this would be the perfect time to visit. In addition to the Laurens Cemetery, we explored some family history, and even found another old school.
As is typical for us, we couldn’t take the direct route. Truth be told, we weren’t quite sure where we would wind up. Below Gray Court we took Hurricane Road, which winds through farmland between Highway 14 and I-385. The rolling hills in this area are very appealing. At one point I found myself doing what I decry on that FB Abandoned group – I took a quick photo of an old falling down house through the window simply because it caught my eye.
What caught my attention was the extension to the front of the building, which gave the old house an unusual floor plan. To be honest, I was actually looking for an old school I knew to be in this area, and I wondered if this might be it. Warrior Creek School doesn’t show up on my GNIS list, but I know it is still extant.
Eventually we did find the school. It was located on Lincoln Road, which connects Hurricane to Warrior Creek Road. The school was set off the road a bit, and it looked like it was being used as a private residence. There was a large metal utility building in front, partially obscuring the view. There were also “No Trespassing” signs everywhere. I got a couple of shots from the road.
I was able to confirm that this is the Warrior Creek School by comparing it to its School Insurance photograph in the South Carolina Archives.
The porch, chimney, and roof lines all match, so this must be the one.
We crisscrossed more countryside, and eventually wound up in the community of Ora. From there we made our way back toward Laurens. Glynda pointed out a house on Highway 221 where she said the family had lived. I didn’t even know about that one, and dummy me didn’t take a photo of it. However, that sighting made her want to visit our old home out in the country, so we headed that way.
Glynda’s intent was to drive up and wander around the grounds of the homeplace. Last time we were by here it was for sale and unoccupied, so we figured it wouldn’t be a problem. However, this time the for sale sign was gone, and there were now “No Trespassing” signs up. We took a couple of shots from the road. Even the old house that we used as a barn was still standing in the back.
Since we were so close we decided to ride by Rocky Springs Presbyterian Church. I’ve written about that church and its relation to our family history numerous times, and have posted multiple photos of Taylor headstones and other Taylor cousins buried in the cemetery there. I won’t repeat those postings.
Yeah, I did take some of the same photos. However, there was one mystery. I had noticed the last time I was here that they had done some maintenance, and had apparently recovered the headstone of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather William Taylor, Senior. The dates seemed to match up with what I have in my database. However, this time we took a closer look, and the stone says that W. Taylor was 29 years old at age of death. According to my records he died at age 77, and was 40 when he came over from Ireland. I’m still not sure that this is the correct person.
These headstones were originally down next to the creek. Ever since I can remember the area was overgrown. It looks like some attempt has been made to reclaim that space, and now several graves are visible in that area. Several of these had 1839 on them, as if an epidemic of some type had come through.
From Rocky Springs we headed on into town. We stopped briefly at the Mineral Springs on Pea Ridge, and actually drove down into that area. There wasn’t much to see, and even less to photograph. This brought us out on the Highway 76 bypass, very close to Forest Lawn Cemetery, when my parents, and most of my father’s family is buried. I hadn’t been to my mother’s grave since her funeral last summer, so I asked if we could drop by that way.
The morning had passed quickly, and it was time for lunch. We grabbed a quick bite, running into a cousin in the restaurant. Stands to reason. I think we’re related to half the county.
After lunch we headed on over to the Laurens Cemetery. East Main Street was blocked for some reason, so we were rerouted past the ruins of the old Laurens Mill.
Eventually we reached the cemetery itself. The cemetery is located on a hill on one of the main thoroughfares, Highway 221. There are some imposing monuments at the top of the hill, with smaller headstones throughout. Access roads wind through the site, and along the Little River at the bottom of the hill is a relatively new park and walkway.
During the 1960s the cemetery gained some notoriety for a glowing red tombstone. The story was picked up by The Associated Press and appeared in articles around the country. According to “The Stroller” in the November 9, 1965 edition of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal…
If you don’t have anything to do some evening, drive on down to Laurens and visit the city cemetery there. Spartans tells us that one of the biggest attractions in upper South Carolina is a tombstone that close at night in the Laurens cemetery. The glowing tombstone has become such a tremendous attraction that the city of Laurens has stationed a policemen [sic] there to handle traffic and also has closed the cemetery to keep the curious from trampling on the graves. “The tombstone gives off a red glow,” reports one Enoree woman who saw the tombstone Sunday night.
According to Glynda, it was found that the mineral make-up of the stone for some reason was very good at reflecting the neon from Pete’s #9 at the bottom of the hill. It wasn’t glowing, and there was nothing nefarious. I haven’t found any other documentation, but it seems that if you got between the stone and the light source, it would stop “glowing” and you’d be able to figure it out rather quickly.
We didn’t see that headstone, but there were quite a few other attractions. First up, we wanted to find “Little Earle.” He was easy enough to find, located in a Martin Family plot near the top of the hill. The life-sized statue faced away from the grave itself, toward the street. The stone had a green mossy covering, and looked creepy as all get out.
Earle died at the age of 11, and apparently was beloved enough by his parents for them to create this monument. I couldn’t find indication of the sculptor.
Glynda noticed other graves in this plot. Next to Little Earle is an even smaller grave, and another to the right. Two of the children died within a year of each other. According to Tim Bray, who had originally posted the photo on Facebook…
Benjamin and Adele Martin were the parents of Little Earle, Benjamin was a Doctor by profession. Not only did they lose Little Earle, but also a infant in 1891. They had a 2nd, son Benjamin Eli Martin was born in 1882 a year after Earle died , at the age of 21, in 1903 died,, The parents, Benjamin Sr. died in 1904 , a year after his son died, he was a Confederate vet , and his wife Adele died in 1905 , a year after his wife died. The Daughter Corinne was 19 when her mother died and the only living person in the family. She lived until 1961. It seemed the family was plagued with Grief and sadness.
As we wandered among the plots we spotted lots of familiar names – the Watts of Watts Mill, Flemings, Todds, Simpsons, Holmes. There were several very tall obelisks. The Fleming’s plot seemed to have the tallest.
I also found the grave of Rev. N. J. Holmes and his wife, Lucy Simpson Holmes. They were located in the Simpson Family plot, along with obelisks for other family members. Rev. Holmes founded Holmes Bible College in the old Altmont Hotel on top of Paris Mountain in Greenville. Holmes College still thrives, now located on Old Bumcombe Road near Furman. My grandfather used to conduct tent revivals in the area with Rev. Holmes, and both my grandfather and my grandmother taught at the college.
One of the other prominent families along the upper part of the hill was the Todd Family. My great-grandmother had been a Todd, and was related to this family. The name Samuel Todd came up several times, specifically Samuel R. Todd. I guess the name was passed down through several generations.
In addition to obelisks, also popular were draped urns.
Glynda asked about the symbolism of the urn. I had seen draped columns and other draped symbols. The drape, or pall, was a symbol of death. If placed over a broken column, it might indicate a life cut short. I wasn’t so sure about the urn, though. Amanda Fisher has more information on her History in Stone blog:
The widely used draped urn is one of the many symbols that humans have used to represent their views towards death and the immortal spirit. The urn itself represents a classical funeral urn used for cremains. A revived interest in classical Greece led to the prevalence of the draped in urn in cemetery symbolism, even though cremation was not terribly popular at this time ( mid to late 1800s). The urn was also thought to stand for the fact that we all return to ash, or dust; the state from which God created us.
The meaning of the drape on the urn can mean many things to many people. Some feel that it symbolizes the final, impenetrable veil between the living and the dead that awaits us all. To others, it symbolizes the human shedding their mortal body and trappings to join God in Heaven. The drape can also stand for the protective nature of God over the dead and their remains, until the Resurrection occurs.
I found several signature stones in the cemetery. There was my old friend W. T. White, as well as a probably relative, J. White…
However, there were also some local stonemasons getting into the act. There was a J. C. from Clinton…
…and a T. B. McCutcheon from “Yorkville,” South Carolina.
There was also a Speers and a Smallwood and Company, location unknown for both of these.
One family plot with several signature stones had an elaborate iron fence an gate. The gate especially had an interesting latching mechanism. Though rusty, it still worked very well.
There was one headstone we saved for last. The tomb of W. J. Coleman, died 1912, also has a life-sized statue of the deceased.
Mr. Coleman served in the Confederate Army, and according to articles I found in The Laurens Advertiser, frequently took part in reunions for Company F. The only other information I could find was that he was an elder for Rocky Springs Presbyterian, and often represented the church at Presbytery meetings. Apart from those facts, I don’t know what business he was in. I suspect retail because I did see several ads for a Coleman’s store, though nothing to tie that to this man. As with Little Earle, I also never found a sculptor’s name.
The afternoon was getting on, but we decided to make one last stop. We drove up to the Watts Mill community and found the Laurens Pentecostal Holiness Church at the corner of Wallace and Watts Avenue. I attended church here from ages ten through college, and Glynda’s wedding was in this church. Our grandfather founded the church, and at one point lived in the parsonage next door.
The original church had been a white frame structure around the corner. Growing up I remember that it had been converted into a bicycle shop. The building was no long-gone, and there was just a vacant lot there now.
It was time to head back home. I most enjoyed learning more about the old Laurens Cemetery. I had never paid attention to it, as many times as I’d passed it. Now I’m glad I took the time to stop., and I’m glad that Tim Bray posted his information on Facebook to catch my attention.