The Penland Cemetery, located in Bakersville, North Carolina, has been neglected, vandalized, and unvisited for years. It has been allowed to return to a wild and jumbled state demeaning the people buried there. A number of historically significant and prominent individuals including a physician, lawyer, and county leader are among the 43 people that are confirmed to have been buried there. It is impossible for local history and genealogical researchers to gather information there and for relatives, however distant in time, to pay proper respects to their families.
MCHS is committed to restore what was once a place of spiritual peace and historical importance by reclaiming it from near-total destruction caused by four wheeler vandals, the inevitable claiming of the land by nature, and the disrespect demonstrated for those resting there.
We invite you to join us in our work on this project.
Donate to the Project
The Mitchell County Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which means your donations are tex-deductible under the limitations of tax law.
In addition to online donations, contributions can be brought by the MCHS Office in the Historic Mitchell County Courthouse (hours 10 AM – 4 PM Tuesday through Friday) or can be mailed to MCHS, PO Box 651, Bakersville, NC 28705.
Penland Cemetery Significant Gravesites
Stephen M. Collis
One of the most well-known gravesites in the cemetery is the Reverend Steven Collis, who has been lauded as the catalyst for early Baptist church development in Mitchell County. He served as the first clerk of the Roan Mountain Baptist Association and also served as its moderator for 19 years, working to establish churches and spread the faith through the hills, valleys, and hollows of the region.
Collis served as a chaplain in the 13th Tennessee Calvary of the Union Army during the Civil War, where continued his work to spread the Gospel.
You can learn more about Collis in the MCHS article Joshua of the Mountains.
Other Gravesites in the Penland Cemetery
- The first recorded interment was Beersheba “Basha” Collis first wife of Starling Buchanan who died at the age of 26 in 1867. She was the daughter of the legendary Stephen Morgan Collis, “Joshua of the Mountains,” and Mary “Polly” Sparks Collis both of whom rest also in the cemetery. In addition to his many contributions to forming and supporting the Roan Mountain Baptist Association and Baptist Churches generally in the area, he served as pastor of the Bakersville Baptist Church in 1888-1889. Church member Helen Madeline Stewart Wilson was his GG Granddaughter.
- Helen Wilson’s parents, Charles Stewart and Blanche Elizabeth Buchanan Stewart and her brother, Charles Elmer Stewart also rest here. Charles was employed by the Government as a prohibition agent. One night he was riding on the side runners of one of the cars while in chase of some moonshiners, and there was an accident while in chase from which he died from complications. His sister, Sally became the bride of Joseph Baird Cragmiles the publisher of the Mitchell County Banner.
- Mary Elmira Blalock Penland daughter of Tilmon and Sarah Wilson Blalock was next five other Penlands rest here including Margaret Penland Hyams.
- Maude, Mamie, A. Earl, and an unnamed infant Berry rest there. These are the children of Archibald Ellison and Julia Ann Young Berry who passed early in their lives. The children are the sisters and brother of Walter C. Berry, noted local attorney and highly respected and recognized contributor to the Bakersville Baptist Church. His sister, Mary Helen married Woodrow Butt of Bakersville and was a grade school teacher for many years. They are buried in the Bakersville Memorial Cemetery.
- Samuel Julian (JS) Black and his wife Ida Virginia Blackburn Black along with their young children, Lucy May and Ida Virginia rest here. JS was a local attorney with an office on the property of Southern Ridge Café which for years was also a barber shop in Bakersville. He was a stalwart member of the Bakersville Baptist Church providing land for the second Bakersville Baptist Church after the first was washed away in the 1901 flood. In addition, he served in many capacities until his death in 1933. His wife Ida was the first President of the Bakersville Baptist Church Women’s Missionary Union, the first in Mitchell County, and then the first president of the Mitchell County WMU Association. Their son, Frank Adrian and his wife Minnie Greene Black continued the tradition of service to the Church. They are buried in the Bakersville Memorial Cemetery.
- The Staffords, Elizabeth E. “Betty” Greene and Joseph M. rest here. She was a teacher and active in church affairs, especially related to forming and maintaining the WMU. He is apparently no relationship to the J M Stafford that worked with Stephen Morgan Green on the History of the Roan Mountain Association book in 1884. This may possibly be John Milton Stafford of the Grassy Creek community.
- James W Taylor Quinn, his first wife Dorothy “Dolly” Mace Quinn and their infant son S.R. Quinn rest here. He was a harness maker and died at age 86.
- Birdie Pritchard, wife of Frank T Pritchard and first wife of Dr. Robert Presswood along with her infant twin daughters by Presswood rest here.
- Franklin Pierce and Naomi Young Slagle.
- John S. and Sarah Cordelia Young Wilson and their 4 month old son
- William A Ramsey, son of Hiram Robert & Elizabeth Womack Ramsey. His wife was Artamina Alice Felts and they were married around 1856.
How You Can Help
The cemetery is all but inaccessible except by walking through brambles and bushes up a steep hill on the northwest side of the hill or up as steep an incline from a resident’s drive and parking area on the southeast side of the hill. The latter is untenable for a number of reasons which cannot be resolved. The damage caused several years ago by vandals riding four wheelers over the graves and pushing over headstones has been addressed by the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Mitchell County Historical Society, repairing and putting up as many markers as possible. However, additional repairs are necessary. Some markers are so heavy that a crane and lift will be necessary to raise others. Removal of invasive vegetation, which includes huge trees and undergrowth, will require special equipment to complete. All efforts to reclaim the cemetery appropriately will first require a road. This will allow genealogical researchers and those who wish to honor the deceased access to the cemetery to begin documenting the graves present there
The project is being implememented in several phases:
- Phase I: Getting permission from the land owner to create access to the cemetery. This has been completed.
- Phase II: Obtaining an easement to the land owner’s property from a reasonably accessible location. This too has been completed.
- Phase III: Obtain the necessary resources and construct a 10-12 foot wide road to the cemetery to include a small space for parking and turn around. This will require:
- Heavy equipment and personnel capable of carving a roadway from a relatively difficult terrain. A primitive roadway was at one time obvious; however, weather and time have all but removed its presence making it impassable and unsuitable as a base for a new road. An entirely new road must be created. We have an individual who has volunteered to use his heavy equipment, expertise, time, and related equipment expenses to carve out this road including clearing the roadway, grading, soil removal as necessary, graveling, drainage, and reseeding. The cost for this donation is between $10,000 and $15,000 were a construction company to be engaged. The individual is bonded.
- Consumables needed to operate the equipment such as fuel, oil, etc. $1,200*
- Bed rock for the roadway and riprap for the drainage ditches 350 tons of crusher rock and (to be estimated) tons of rip rap @ : $6,000*
- Drainage pipe 6 @ $210: $1,260*
- Silt fence 10 @ $20: $200*
- Grass seed and straw materials: $500*
- Phase IV: Clearing the heavy timber at and near the cemetery: $3,000*
- Phase V: Clearing the cemetery and repairing the damages to markers: $3,000 (indicates a cost that will be pursued with local businesses for mitigation or outright donation. Also, volunteer time will factor into Phase V).
- Phase VI: Surround the cemetery proper with a sturdy fence: $2,000*
The Mitchell County Historical Society is seeking financial help with Phases III-VI of the project. We are working to raise approximately $20,000 to help with costs to restore the cemetery and provide access to it for the general public.
Won’t you help us? A Donate button is available at the top of the page, and contributions are tax deductible to the extent of tax laws. MCHS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and all donations earmarked for the Penland Cemetery will go to the purchase of materials and labor to complete the project in a timely manner.
For more Information…
Feel free to send a comment or question about the Penland Cemetery project below.