In this SIGHTLINE story, The Observer explores the history of Hartstown, a pioneering Black community in Jefferson County. Click here to see other stories in this Sightline.
Kearneysville Methodist Cemetery
Following the abolition of slavery, African American communities were rapidly established throughout Jefferson County. Churches were cornerstones of these communities — serving as houses of worship, schools, and community centers. The African American community in Kearneysville was known as Hartstown. Its first church, St. Paul’s Baptist, was built on property acquired by leaders of the community in 1879.
Within a decade of St. Paul’s founding, a group of Hartstown residents acquired nearby property for a second church. In 1889, Allen Cole, Douglas Roper, Daniel Ford, Benjamin Carter, and John Wesley Fry, were deeded one half acre of land for a Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) church by William T. Stewart, owner of the orchard to the east of Hartstown (situated on land which had been part of the former Dandridge slave-holding plantation).
In May of 1889, the cornerstone was laid for the M.E. Church of Kearneysville, later also referred to as Stewart Chapel. St. Paul’s and Stewart Chapel were closely intertwined with congregations regularly rotating services. A life-long resident, Charles Ferguson, recalls attending Sunday school at one church then walking to the other for the weekly service.
In the late 1880s, the Standard Lime and Stone Company acquired a portion of Stewart’s orchard property immediately adjacent to Hartstown for quarrying operations, opening up new employment opportunities. In 1902, trustees of the M.E. Church purchased a quarter-acre plot of this property, carved out of the south-eastern corner, from Standard Lime and Stone. For reasons yet to be uncovered, the cemetery plot purchased by the M.E. trustees is located approximately a quarter mile away from the church. The deed for the Methodist cemetery property lists two additional trustees — William Goens and Albert Mason. Ann, the mother of William Goens, died in 1904 and her headstone is the earliest grave in the cemetery with discernible text.
In 1948, after the Standard Lime and Stone Company closed its Kearneysville operations, local community leader Boyd Carter purchased the former quarry property. During his ownership, Carter allowed burials to expand to the north and west of the original Methodist cemetery and onto his property without official documentation.
In December of 1963, following Carter’s death and a civil action following the sale of the larger property, this extension of the cemetery was deeded to David and Alice Allen who, along with David’s brother Isaiah, were also designated as trustees. The language in the first 1963 deed notes the possibility of burials beyond the official boundaries: “…this conveyance is made subject to such rights of burial as may exist — it being understood that there may be certain bodies buried in the portion of the land herein described near-to and along the northeast line of the old cemetery and the northwest line of the old cemetery.”
During the Allen’s ownership, fencing was placed around the cemetery and noted with signage as “Boyd Carter Memorial Cemetery.” From this period onward, obituaries and death certificates refer to the cemetery as the Boyd Carter Memorial Cemetery or the Allen Family Cemetery, but many continue to reference the cemetery as Kearneysville Methodist.
Funeral services and burials were an elaborate community event. The Charles Town Advocate described Jerry Meyers’ 1910 funeral as “a great spectacle.” A crowded service held at the M.E. Church, people filling the chapel and crowding around the building to hear the “eloquent and forceful” sermon and the funeral procession of “wagons, buggies, and every conceivable kind of vehicle…perhaps a mile long.” African American funerals and burials were rich with tradition and these homegoings were often viewed as a celebration of the soul leaving the human body to reunite with ancestors.
The M.E. burial ground itself represents lasting examples of many traditional African American burial traditions. Plantings like yucca, daffodils, lilies, and rose bushes were planted alongside field stones to mark graves. As is traditional of African American burials, individuals were laid to rest in an east-west orientation.
There was less emphasis on particular burial plots and more on the power of place — their cemetery. This is evidenced in the fact that some of the burials are not only near family members but also arranged in kinship groups. Additionally, there are tokens and symbolic memorials left on gravesites.
When the Kearneysville quarry operations ended and mechanization replaced many traditional labor jobs in the orchard and nearby farms, many families moved out of Hartstown to cities with greater employment opportunities.
As is typical of many rural cemeteries, especially those not sharing a property with an active church, plans for perpetual care were never established. Family members of those buried in the cemetery often took over care informally, an increasingly difficult chore as the Hartstown community aged and dispersed over the later decades of the twentieth century.
With the wide variety of native plants, trees, and invasive plantings, such as rose bushes, the cemetery eventually became overgrown. Runoff from the orchard, and the growth of vines and new trees, slowly buried grave markers. Being at the end of a narrow, dead-end road also made the cemetery vulnerable to illegal dumping and vandalism.
Committed to Memory
In September 2018, a small group of individuals came together to begin restoring and preserving the cemetery. Soon after the clean-up effort began, ground penetrating radar was conducted to identify unmarked graves near the narrow gravel road where Mountaineer Gas would be excavating for a pipeline.
An application to the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office was written and submitted and new trustees were recruited for the cemetery. One of the new trustees, Henry Allen, noted that he feels “a sense of obligation to his family and hopes that the current preservation efforts can stop any more destruction of the graves.”
As of August 2020, the preservation team has located 91 grave markers with names, at least 61 metal markers with no discernable text, and dozens of field stones marking graves. Extensive research has been conducted over the past two years to identify names of individuals buried in the cemetery or likely buried there.
With the limited documentation about some of these individuals and their families, especially prior to the twentieth century, it is extremely difficult to know the full magnitude of how many individuals are buried there. The location of the cemetery at the edge of a former plantation on unfarmable terrain suggests the possibility that unmarked graves of enslaved individuals preceded any of the formal designations of this land as a cemetery. Pre-existing burials in the area are a possible reason that the church leaders acquired this specific plot despite it not being located adjacent to the church property.
During the early decades of the cemetery, the wire fencing was not present and the adjacent dirt road meandered with the contours of the land. Observing the alignment of the natural features today, it’s easy to see how the perceived boundaries of the cemetery would extend beyond the official boundaries. The fence installed in the 1960s appears to enclose many of the metal markers and fieldstones just inside the fence line. As the preservation project cleared away the undergrowth along the fence, it noted that many of these markers aligned with what appeared to be fieldstones serving as footstones outside of the fence line, on the old orchard property.
In August 2020, the perimeter was examined with ground penetrating radar, positively identifying 23 graves located beyond the surveyed boundaries of the cemetery, both to the east and the south (along the gravel road). Without a complete archeological survey of the area, it is impossible to know whether any further development on adjacent properties would disturb human remains.
A Legacy Owed
Preserving this cemetery is more than just saving a burial ground, it is about preserving what is left of the Hartstown community. The lasting legacy of Hartstown is the cemetery and the relics that remain — handmade graves, memorials left for loved ones, and the names of the people who built a community from the ground up.
There are stories to be told about the veterans who fought for a country in which they did not yet have equality, tragedy like that faced by Theodore and Sarah King as they buried their stillborn baby and their 10 year old son Terry, who drowned in the nearby quarry three days after his brother was born. The struggles and triumphs of building a community through the Jim Crow era. The mothers, fathers, children, veterans, farm workers, midwives, tavern owners, church leaders, quarry laborers, and more. They deserve to have their final resting place protected and the historical significance of their community recorded and preserved.
Donations to assist with preservation and maintenance can be mailed to Boyd Carter Memorial Cemetery, P.O. Box 67, Kearneysville, WV 25430.
In this SIGHTLINE story, The Observer explores the history of Hartstown, a pioneering Black community in Jefferson County. Click here to see other stories in this Sightline.By Addison Reese