A grave situation?
Out in the Cainhoy area, off the beaten path, is a small resting ground known to the locals as the Old Ruins Cemetery. Longtime resident and Cemetery Corporation Chair MaeRe Skinner, who lives in a neighborhood off Clements Ferry Road, claims that it dates back to the 1690s. It was “used by the Dissenters from New England and as the new century progressed the Presbyterians worshipped and buried there,” said Skinner. Additionally, Methodists used the Cemetery. She also states that, according to recent archaeological studies, “there was a prehistoric Native American settlement there.”
Skinner’s ties to the cemetery run deep with family roots. Several members of her family, including her great grandfather, are buried in Old Ruins.
“My grandfather and father always maintained it, passed down its history, and now my husband and I do along with our son, daughter and grandson,” she said.
Although its historical context potentially predates colonization, residents have feared that the nearby Oak Bluff housing development and the expansion of Clements Ferry Road will endanger the Old Ruins Cemetery.
Their concerns arose two years ago when plans for the Oak Bluff subdivision revealed houses on both sides of the cemetery entrance. Although the citizens made their voices heard, Skinner feels like the complaints, specifically the request to have a taller fence to deter trespassers from entering the Old Ruins Cemetery, fell on deaf ears.
“Our issues of aluminum fencing and closing off the already existing access road are not being addressed,” said Skinner.
The taller fence is part of the deed restrictions, meaning the Oak Bluff development is compelled to complete it. City of Charleston Director of Planning, Preservation, & Sustainability Jacob Lindsey said that since the deed was handled between private parties it’s really a matter for them to work out. Hofford Farm Hill, LLC was the previous owner.
“There aren’t any deed restrictions that have not been met, other than, upon the final phase, which is yet to be constructed, that provides the improved access off of the city streets to the cemetery,” said Oak Bluff’s Director of Development Bob Pickard.
But, when asked about the taller aluminum fence (there is already an existing 4-foot tall fence in place), Pickard said any additional deed requirements will be finished at the end of the development phase. Currently, they have no estimated time for completion.
Preservation Society of Charleston Director of Preservation Robert Gurley said that the situation surrounding the cemetery’s preservation has gotten worse in the last two years.
“The issues that we thought had been resolved a couple years ago— there was an agreement in place to resolve those issues— nothing really has been done,” Gurley said. “The [deed] restrictions need to be enforced and these issues need to be resolved now before irreparable damage is done to this historic cemetery.”
One of Skinner’s biggest concerns about the cemetery is a segment on the outskirts of the fence that some residents believe contains unmarked graves. In many historical situations, unmarked graves are the final resting grounds of African-Americans, and, according to documents provided to The Daniel Island News by Skinner, some members of the black community in Cainhoy say that they have ancestors resting in those graves.
“It would not be unusual to find graves outside of a cemetery, so we feel it’s an investigation that we strongly feel needs to undertaken,” said Gurley.
As the Clements Ferry Road widening project marches on, the South Carolina Department of Transportation is confident that they will not harm any part of the Old Ruins Cemetery in their work.
“We have determined that no grave sites will be disturbed by the project,” said SCDOT Lowcountry Representative Craig Winn. “The survey of the project included background research, an archaeological survey, and an architectural survey. The archaeological and architectural surveys were performed to generate the information required for sites and properties to be evaluated for recommendations of eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places.”
Winn said that SCDOT conducted interviews with local informants, visual inspections of the site, and an evaluation of the topographic setting where proposed improvements would take place.
For the future of the site, Skinner wants to see the Oak Bluff development work with SCDOT to help preserve the Old Ruins Cemetery, provide a better fence, add historical markers along the property, and seek out the potential African American graves with ground-penetrating radar. She called the cemetery and adjacent site “historic jewels” that are worthy of protection.
“The foundation to the Meeting House and many, many marked and unmarked graves are still there today and deserve recognition and restoration,” added Skinner.