Columbia preservationists work to save overgrown cemetery

By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For decades, a public cemetery in Columbia has been overgrown and ignored. It dates back to the 1860s, and until Monday has gotten very little care. But now a preservation group is trying to get it restored.

For the past six decades, drivers have seen an overgrown lot. But on Monday a sea of wooden stakes and dozens of crumbling headstones revealed what lies beneath.

"We know that there are between 5 and 8 thousand individuals still buried out here," said Mike Trinkley. "This is a packed cemetery."

Trinkley is the director of the Chicora Foundation, a non-profit heritage preservation group working to help clean up four acres that have seen virtually no care since the mid 50s.
It's the lower cemetery, one of the three original City of Columbia public burial grounds. Buried there are the haves and the have-nots, along side immigrants and Confederate soldiers. "This cemetery really provided a refuge for everyone," said Trinkley.
Trinkley says the city basically forgot about the land until the construction of Interstate 126. "A little bit of historical research and it would have been obvious that the cemetery was here, but I think it was more convenient to ignore it than to actually proactively identify the cemetery and ensure that those buried here were treated in a respectful manner," said Trinkley.
Trinkley has spent the past year working with the city to get the land cleared of weeds, a homeless camp and crime. The collapsed graves are easy to see now, and Trinkley hopes that means they won't be forgotten.

"It's important for the community to know that history is more than pretty houses, this is also part of the city's history," he said. "Part of the community's responsibility is to honor and protect those who have gone before."

Besides clearing the land, Trinkley is encouraging the city to keep a more watchful eye on the area. He's also started the process of getting the cemetery placed on the National Historic Register, administrative tasks he hopes will keep a developer from turning one of Columbia's oldest burial grounds into townhouses.

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