Latest News

Oldest headstone in Rock Hill cemetery fixed, thanks to 4-H teens

For decades, the oldest headstone in Rock Hill's Laurelwood Cemetery lay cracked in three pieces with the rain falling on it.

The grass grew green around it to cover the white marble during the spring, and the dust fell over it in summer.

A 4-year-old child named James Pinkney "Jimmie" Holler lay 6 feet below in the grave. A lamb at the top of the uppermost cracked piece shows a round top, meaning "child."

But that was until a year ago when a bunch of teens, led by a curious history buff barely old enough to shave named Jon Meadows, saw the stone in pieces while in a class of their 4-H Historical Club. Together, the stone is about the size of - yes - a breadbox.

"I saw it there in three pieces, and I said, 'That's somebody,'" Meadows said.

"It was a part of the city's history," said another class member, 17-year-old Tim Garland.

So the class, under the tutelage of Ellen Mayes, researched the site and the grave.

Turns out the grave is the oldest in the cemetery, which was dedicated in 1872. James Holler died in 1873, the second burial after one other child whose grave was later moved. And this Jimmie Holler was not just any Holler.

"James was my granddaddy's little brother," said Mary Holler Jeffords, 81. "Alice Holler, one of the siblings, married John Anderson. Some might recall, they had a little car company together, but first they made some buggies."

The family started a buggy company in 1886 that became the Anderson Motor Company, one of America's first car builders early in the 20th century, housed right across White Street from the cemetery. The Holler family even gave the city of Rock Hill the land for the earliest part of the Laurelwood Cemetery.

Right there under a magnolia tree, on a little rise within a whiff of the old grease-down-the-forearms cheeseburgers at the long-gone Friendly Grill across Laurel Street, is where James Holler remains in the oldest grave in the historic cemetery.

"He died in a fire," Jeffords said. "He wasn't but 4 years old. Granddaddy didn't talk about it much, but he did say that."

Somehow, maybe by accident, maybe by lawn mower, maybe on purpose, the stone that was etched by hand in 1873 by an unknown craftsman was knocked from its marble base. It lay there in three pieces, one piece on top of another on top of another for at least a half-century, Jeffords said, until the teen sleuths found it.

The class, with the blessing of the Holler family, turned to one family in Rock Hill that knows all there is to know about gravestones. The Gauldens, of Gaulden Monuments on Saluda Street. Daniel Gaulden, third-generation monument maker, offered to fix the historic headstone. His price? No price. Free.

"This was a bunch of teenagers who were learning and trying to save something, we thought it the right thing to do to fix the stone for them," Gaulden said. "They didn't have to take this project on, but they did because they cared that this monument was built to last forever until it was knocked over."

So Gaulden - a wise old man of 26 - took the stone to his shop. Everyone involved agreed that the stone's history shouldn't be erased to make it look like when it was new in 1873, but "preserved" in a state that shows the wear of the elements of time.

Gaulden first saw that the stone had been repaired once countless years ago with epoxy, but epoxy doesn't breathe with the wind and rain and the stone broke again. Gaulden put the pieces together with mortar. He cleaned off what could be cleaned. Although the elements had scuffed off some of the writing, the following could be read, finally.

"Jimmie, son of A.D., and M.C. Holler," it said. "Born June 24, 1869. Died July 11, 1873."

The rest is illegible, but somebody in the family had put a flat granite marker on the grave that mirrored the beautiful white headstone's words that had been lost to time. The rest says, "Only the angels know in heaven what this little grave doth mean. God, our little lamb, hath taken to the fold that is unseen. This was the second burial in this cemetery."

But no longer is the oldest remaining grave at Laurelwood, James Holler, "unseen." The teens from the 4-H club saw him. Ellen Mayes saw him. Mary Holler Jeffords and Lura Holler and others in the family who will be at a little ceremony today when the monument is put back up saw him. Daniel Gaulden saw him.

The monument is about 2 feet tall. After today, everybody can see where James "Jimmie" Holler is.