Cane Creek Cemetery Needs Your Help

Cane Creek Cemetery was started May 10, 1795. The cemetery was 216 years old this spring. To the best of my knowledge it is the oldest cemetery in Buncombe County. I am sure quite a few people died and were buried in Buncombe County before this date, Samuel Davidson in Swannanoa for one, but whether they were buried in a cemetery, I do not know. The Cane Creek Cemetery was started by William Whitaker Sr., (1772–1860). Apparently he and his wife Mary Canady Whitaker (1772–1848) lost a child and buried it on their property.
What started as a Whitaker Cemetery soon became the community cemetery. Cane Creek (now Fairview) Baptist Church began ten years later. The church was located next to the cemetery for around ninety years. Almost every family that first settled in Fairview was from what is now Davidson County or neighboring western Randolph County. Most of these families knew each other or were related to each other by birth or marriage before they arrived in Fairview. It was only natural that they would be buried in William Whitaker’s cemetery since it was next to the church and the Whitaker family were friends or relatives.
Around seventy-five percent of the people who died in Fairview before 1900 were buried in Cane Creek Cemetery. In the 1890s, Cane Creek (now Fairview) Baptist started to take over the cemetery. The oldest part of the cemetery was surrounded by a rock wall and the graves were mounded which was the custom in the 1800s. The church was going to tear down the rock wall and level the graves to make the cemetery easier to take care of. Columbus L. Jenkins (1863–1929) who descended from William Whitaker on both sides of the family, did not want these changes to be made. He sued the church and succeeded in stopping Cane Creek (Fairview) Baptist Church from taking over the cemetery. A short time later the church moved to its present location on Church Road. Columbus Jenkins may have won the battle but he lost the war. The rock wall was eventually torn down and the coming of the lawn mower put an end to the rounded graves. What he did succeed at was to keep the church from taking over Cane Creek Cemetery, meaning there was no organized body to look after the graveyard.

These two photos are from Jason Cockfield whose wife Amanda Renee (Chicoine) is descendent from John Lanning (1757–1839) and other early Lannings and Whitakers of Fairview.

Cane Creek Cemetery was maintained by community workdays

Both are full length views looking up/down the length of the cemetery from John Lanning’s grave.

until around 1960. The community would hold a cemetery work day two or three times a year. Thirty to sixty people would show up on a Saturday with their tools to mow down the weeds with a sling and remove the tree or bush sprouts that had come up since the last workday. The weeds would be from knee to waist high on each workday. The cemetery would look pretty good for a week or two but after that it was a grown up mess.
By the late forties and early fifties most of the people in Fairview were no longer self-sufficient farmers, they worked in cotton mills. The cotton mills may not seem like a bed of roses in today’s world — that is why they had to move to Asia and Latin America — but back then they seemed like a gravy train compared to farming. Plowing with a horse or mule, cutting trees by hand for firewood or hoeing corn in rows a thousand feet long made the cotton mills look pretty good.
After people began working in the mills, their hands became allergic to hoe and ax handles. Slings began to feel like a safety hazard. Cemetery workdays became a rare event and those that showed up were usually walking with the aid of a stick. This resulted in the formation of the Cane Creek Cemetery Association.

A community workday at Cane Creek (Fairview) Cemetery.

The Cemetery Association was formed mostly by elder leaders of the Fairview community to pay for mowing and upkeep. Glen Ledbetter, Edith Lankford DeArmond, Will Whitaker and many others realized the days of free or very cheap labor were over. They decided to raise $25,000 for perpetual care of the Cemetery using only the interest from the money to pay for mowing. The idea was good but the math wasn’t. At that time a new two bedroom/two bath house cost $12,000. A new car cost less then $3,000. $500 was an outlandish price for an acre of land. They did not think about inflation. By the mid and late 1970s, CDs paid 10–15 percent, $25,000 drew $2500 to $3750 a year in interest. Today $100,000 at present interest rates will draw from $800 to $1,200 in interest. That won’t pay for mowing the cemetery twice.
Needless to say the Cemetery Association is having money problems. Some have suggested cashing in the CDs and using all the money, not just the interest. Well unlike our leaders in Washington, most Fairview locals still believe you should keep your word. The Cemetery Association told people we would only use the interest on their money when they gave it to us and we will keep our word. The second reason we will not use the principle as well as the interest is that even if we did, it would be used up in less then ten years. Then where would we get the money?
So many well-to-do people are moving into Buncombe County, locals can’t afford to buy property or pay the tax on it. The average new house runs close to $300,000 in Fairview. We now have zoning so kids can’t put a trailer in their parent’s backyard anymore. The factories are gone and have been replaced by the tourist industry. The people who own motels, restaurants and gift shops may make big money but their employees don’t make a decent wage. Tourism often means poverty for the masses. The young have no choice but to move away.
The Cemetery Association is looking into finding safe ways to draw a better return on our money. Even if we do, it will not be enough to last forever. We will still need money from the community to maintain Cane Creek Cemetery unless or until several people who have a pretty good amount of money remember the cemetery in their will. That is about the only way any real large sums of money could come to the cemetery. Old timers used to say “maybe we will hit oil digging a grave some day”… well if we did, they wouldn’t let us drill it.
I really hate to ask but the Cane Creek Cemetery Association needs the public’s help. If everyone who has people buried in the cemetery would just give $10 dollars a year, it would really help. If you give to the cemetery please state whether you wish to put the money in the perpetual care fund or the current use fund. The choice is yours. People who do not wish to give money or don’t have it to give are welcome to work a few hours at the graveyard on their own schedule. It is always possible to find something to do there such as weed eating, straightening tombstones or picking up trash, etc.


Support Cane Creek Cemetery
The Cemetery Association will have a table at the Reynalds Fire Department yard sale on Saturday, August 27 from 8 am–2 pm. Come and buy something to support the cemetary. If you have items to donate for the sale, please call Ann Sales (Mrs. Freddie Sales) at 828 299-1218 or Bruce Whitaker at 628-1089. They will pick up items locally.
If you would like to donate money, checks should be sent to the Cane Creek Cemetery Association, PO Box 162 Fairview, NC 28730. Please state whether you’d like the funds to be used for perpetual use or current use. Contributions are tax deductible.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area.

12 thoughts on “Cane Creek Cemetery Needs Your Help”

  1. Bruce, Thank you for alerting us to the need at Cane Creek. I am a descendant of John Lanning as well ( Amanda Cockfield’s aunt) . Many ancestors buried there. Thank you also to the response of the community. I have never been there but I hope to make a trip soon.

  2. Many thanks from the bottom of my heart for this great add,our flea market at Reynolds Fire Dept.was quite a success,we had seven tables of items that were mostly donated by friends in South Carolina ,Loviel Buckner husband to the late Mildred wright was the first to donate flea market items ,many thanks to WLOS TV.for their news coverage prompted a generous donation from a Mrs Noble in Columbus ,S.C. Mildred Wright was best friends to Madeline and Benny Daves of Old Fort Rd.
    We now have promises from a crane service if needed to help set the tomb rocks back up and checks are still coming in and promises for more.Special thanks to Tommy Joe Miller president of the cemetery committee for his hard work in using his vehicle to move the flea market items and helping set up for the sale.Thanks to Bruce Whitaker for his articles in the Fairview Crier .And we can not forget Reynolds Fire dept . for their suggesting that we come in with them on the same day they were raising funds for our fire dept.Thanks to all that played a part in our project things are looking up for Cane Creek cemetery.We have a long way to go but with good people and our father in heaven we have come a long way.

  3. Having recently moved to the beautiful Green Creek area of North Carolina, I am eager to learn all about my new adopted state. While watching the news on WLOS-TV I was saddened to learn of the vandalism at Cane Creek Cemetery. It was this broadcast, and the Lord’s prompting, that led me to call Ann Sales. She assured me they could use donations and, with Bruce and another volunteer, they came to my home and collected the items. I am pleased to learn that their rummage sale was a success. May God continue to bless their efforts.

  4. Thank you Patricia for your comment and your great flea market items but most of all for the kind loving heart you have.I would at this time like to correct that I stated you as living in S.C. in my previous comment ,to everyone Patricia Noble is the sweet lady I spoke of in my previous comment,her generous donations of top quality flea market items were a great success at our sale.I am so thankful that God sent you into this project.THANK YOU.

  5. Our building is now taking on much change ,thanks to the many donations of a community that comes together to make dreams reality .Let us in all respect give the glory and thanks to our father in heaven ,I personally know his love amazes me,for he made it happen.
    From a personal stand point ,I would also like to give a personal thank you to Tommy Joe Miller,I have watched him work on this project from day one .Thank you Tommy ,you are the hardest working man I have ever know,to Madeline & Benny Daves thanks for always being there.To all who showed up this past Saturday with rollers and brushes in hand hearts filled with kindness we conquered a major project .

  6. I have been by the cemetery the building looks better however the tomb rocks still lay in slumber,the grass is not receiving attention,the roof is rusty with neglect,I hear from others that money has been raised ,why is it not being used,oh well this has been the problem for years.most folks in this area doesn’t even know who the people are on this so called board of directors.My folks told me an entirely different story about the history of the cemetery but yet that is another problem.I say show us what your intentions are and maby we would be more willing to get involved.

  7. I think the best way to see what our intentions are is to get involved.
    We have a work day Oct.15th starting at 9:00 am. rain date:Oct 22.If you have questions there will be board members there to give you a better understanding of what we are working to achieve .Our main goal is to have people who have family members buried and own plots there to come out and by doing so pull together to volunteer your hands ,hearts and voice to bring our cemetery back to be something that everyone can be proud of.I realize we need communication for this is the door way to understanding.I recently became a board member and I too am still just learning but at least I’m trying.If I can’t answer your questions I will find someone who can.I also have had it brought to my attention that many feel that too meetings a year are not enough but if no one showes up for these meetings ,then why have more ? Another thing is that many of you have ask why the cemetery never has decoration day,I personally feel this would be a great idea .Please come if you aren’t able to work that is ok too but at least ask for knowledge.I feel we will do the best we can with what we have to do with.

  8. I use the cemeteries to search for ancestry and according to his death certificate my Great Great Grandfather is buried there yet when I look on the web site find a grave I cannot locate him there…does someone have a list of those buried in the cemetary? His first wife was Mary Lanning and his second wife was Mary A Whitaker….His name is Joseph Madison Harris. Ten dollars is not much to ask for up keep if you have ancestors you would like to see their graves preserved…I found his first wifes grave there but not the second one

  9. Ladies and gentlemen: once again it is time to reach into your hearts and pockets and help our cemetery to become more beautiful as time goes on,Cane Creek is a non profit org. so all donations can give you a tax deduction ,we will start with letting you know that early spring we will have another flea market with all donations going to the up keep of our cemetery last year we made some great progress but still have a long way to go but with everyone pulling together I can see great changes in the up coming new year .Please help if you have flea market items please contact me at (828) 299-1218 ,I believe strongly we can achieve.I personally have great expectations for this project and will donate my time and heart to see a job well done.With heart felt thanks Ann sales

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