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A collection of photography and exploration focusing on Upstate South Carolina and beyond.
I really, really need to find another subject for photography. It seems that I’m stuck in “cemetery mode.” People ask me if I have some morbid fascination with death. Not really. I’m more interested in the historic nature of a cemetery – the lives of the people who lived and found their final resting place in this spot. I love the artwork on the old headstones, and the florid language of the older epitaphs. For old cemeteries no longer in use, or no longer associated with a church, I like to ponder on the communities that once existed, as well as the lives this locations represent.
Thursday was a beautiful day, so I decided to head out and take some photos. I gave my friend Keith a call, and we headed out in a typically random direction. From his house in Travelers Rest we headed across country, generally toward Pickens. Soon we found ourselves at Oolenoy Baptist Church, and its historic cemetery.
Oolenoy Baptist Church
Oolenoy Baptist was established in 1795, and was the first church in the Pumpkintown area. It’s cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the earliest grave is from about 1798. The cemetery is expansive, spreading out on the rolling hills of the church grounds.
The Keith Family seems to be the most prominent family in the area. Their family plot consists of rustic stone crypts topped with old-fashioned shouldered headstones.
The patriarch is Cornelius Keith. There is a large, later monument to Cornelius, but the original headstone was a humbler, hand-carved stone.
There are other hand-carved headstones, and there are also monuments to unmarked graves for slave and Cherokee graves on the grounds.
We did find some interesting examples of funeary art. I know this is supposed to be a hand pointing heavenward, but it looks more like the deceased is giving the rest of the world the finger.
Right behind the church was a headstone with an elaborate bas relief of Christ…
…and next to that a block with a couple of creepy baby or possibly cherub heads.
I looked for some stone cutter signature stones, but didn’t find any of the usual suspects. I did see two horizontal slabs that had signatures, but these were illegible.
Across from the church grounds is the old Oolenoy Elementary School. The school now serves as a community center, and the Pumpkintown Pumpkin Festival is held the second Saturday in October each year at the community center.
When Keith and I passed by, the place was crawling with folks painting and doing yard maintenance. I guess they were getting ready for the festival. They did look at me askance as I pulled up to take this photo…
Soapstone Baptist Church
Not far from Oolenoy is the historic Soapstone Baptist Church. This is one of the oldest African American churches in upper South Carolina, having been founded soon after the Civil War. Many freed slaves settled nearby, and the are became known as “Liberia.” In addition to the church, the Liberia School was founded to provide education for the newly freed slaves.
First, though, we located the old Soapstone Cemetery, which is just down from the church. Fortunately, this was clearly marked by the brown sign that Pickens has placed at all cemeteries in the county. These new signs identify the cemetery and even give latitude and longitude coordinates. They have done this for ALL cemeteries, including obscure single-family cemeteries.
The cemetery wasn’t always so easy to find, though. Until just a few years ago, the cemetery was unknown even to the congregation. It was discovered, and the area was cleared and access restored.
Most of the headstones are just field stones, and many of the graves are unmarked. There are a couple of prominent stones, albeit still very modest compared to those at Oolenoy.
From here we proceeded to the church, proper. The current building was built about 50 years ago, after the previous building was destroyed by arson. Somehow the old Liberia School survived.
The church was originally named “Little Durby”, but soon took its name from the surrounding exposed soapstone. From these outcrops one has a spectacular view of Table Rock.
In addition to its history, the church is now famous for its fish fries, held the third Saturday of each month. Funds from the fish fry go to support the church and for cemetery upkeep.
From Soapstone Keith and I made our way to Highway 11. We took a brief detour into the park headquarters, then continued on westward on 11. Keith said that there was a historic cemetery just off of the scenic highway, so we started looking for brown signs. I spotted one, and turned in. Turns out, it wasn’t the one we were after, but was interesting, nonetheless.
At first I wasn’t sure about pulling in. There was a pickup truck in the drive. Since it had a “For Sale” sign in the windshield, I figured it had just been parked there to try to sell. Turns out the owner of the truck was in the cemetery with lawn equipment doing some maintenance.
Keith and I approached cautiously, since the guy was armed. We told him what we were doing, and I gave him one of my cards. Turns out his last name was Lynch, and he was part of the cemetery’s family. He pointed out headstones for his relatives, and told us something of their lives.
The cemetery was very small, but there were some historic stones, including a couple of hand-carved ones.
We left Mr. Lynch to his ground maintenance, and continued on. There was another brown sign right across the highway on Sliding Rock Road. It was for yet another Lynch Family Cemetery. We didn’t explore.
Friendship Methodist Cemetery
On down Highway 11 we found the cemetery sign Keith was after. Friendship Methodist Cemetery is down a dirt road. I couldn’t find any information about the former church, or where it was located, but the cemetery stretches out along a narrow ridge.
The majority of the stones are old, unmarked field stones. However, there are few recent interments. A couple of graves have temporary markers as late as 2007, and there was this interesting stone with a peace symbol.
From Friendship we crossed Highway 11 and drove through the Sunset Community. There were a couple more brown cemetery signs, but these were on private property and we didn’t stop to explore.
We headed back toward Pickens for lunch, then stopped for a bit at the Pickens County Museum. There I picked up a copy of “A Brief Treatise on Tomb & Grave Stones of the Eighteenth Century” by local author J. David Gillespie. The book included several of the headstones that we had seen at Oolenoy and other locations, but also included Charleston and other cemeteries.
Here is a Google Map of our explorations…
View Pickens Cemetery Ramble in a larger map
…and here is a slide show of all the photos…