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Heritage restored at abandoned Rock Hill cemetery

To earn his Eagle Scout award, the Boy Scouts' top honor, Trevon Barber chose to clean up an abandoned cemetery.

It was a task that proved to be greater than the 18-year-old South Pointe High graduate ever expected.

Barber led a team of volunteers who spent 400 hours during one of the city's hottest summers uncovering an all but forgotten piece of Rock Hill's history.

The group sparked what they hope will be an ongoing effort to revitalize and maintain one of the area's few African American cemeteries.

The small plot of land at the corner of Flint and Workman streets had been neglected for years. Masked by overgrown weeds and brush, it was virtually invisible to passersby.

"When I first got here, I said 'This is a very bad idea,' " Barber said. "You had to look very hard to see a headstone."

Barber, whose grandparents live around the corner from the cemetery, gathered a small group of family, friends and other scouts.

"The toughest part was getting started," Barber said. "Everybody was just overwhelmed."

Barber's dad and grandfather brought tools - chainsaws, a wood mulcher, a small bush hog - and bought supplies.

A couple who lived across the street watched from their front porch.

"The first day we got out here, they said, 'Y'all aren't going to finish,' " Barber said.

The volunteers arrived early in the mornings and worked late, breaking only for lunch. They encountered briars, ticks, spiders, poison oak and a nest of copperhead snakes. They tripped over tree stumps.

Some considered quitting.

"There were a lot of points when people were like 'Are we going to stop now?'" Barber said.

But they pressed on. Neighbors brought them water. And some days, people passing by lent a hand.

They succeeded.

A 'commendable effort'

York County historian Michael Scoggins said the group uncovered Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, one of nearly 100 abandoned cemeteries in the area.

The county's online property records are unclear about who owns the land. It's not among those maintained by the city, Rock Hill Spokeswoman Katie Quinn said.

The last time anyone conducted an inventory of the graves was 1981, Scoggins said. Those records are on file at the Museum of York County, where Scoggins works.

There are at least 47 graves at Lincoln Memorial, the oldest of which belongs to a Rev. H. Blake Pedd, who was buried in 1921.

It's common for abandoned cemeteries to fall into disrepair, Scoggins said. Often they're in rural areas on private land that once belonged to residents who have moved away or whose descendents haven't kept up the property.

Generally it's volunteers from organizations like the Boy Scouts and Sons of Confederate Veterans who clean them up.

"It's a very commendable effort," Scoggins said. "It's important and it does help."

'Outstanding young man'

Looking over his work one afternoon, Barber said the trouble was worth it.

In addition to finding several unmarked graves, he found graves of black soldiers who fought in World War I and World War II. After they were uncovered, someone posted little American flags at their headstones.

"It's an important part of African American history," Barber said.

Maj. Walter Anderson, Barber's Air Force JROTC instructor at South Pointe, wasn't surprised to hear the teen took on the task.

"He's an outstanding young man," Anderson said. "He was able to be a good student and still be buddy-buddy with his friends. But when it came time to be a leader and be serious he was all business.

"You have a lot of students that can't separate that."

Barber, who graduated in June, plans to attend Spartanburg Methodist College in the fall, where he'll wrestle, a sport he's taken part it since age 6.

"He's always been a well-mannered, focused child," said his father, Roderick Barber, who spent most of his summer working at the cemetery. "He's never given me any problems.

"I'm proud that he stuck with it and got it done. I've always preached that if you start something, you've got to finish it."