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.
Cane Creek Cemetery was maintained by community workdays
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.
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.