BETHEL COMMUNITY CEMETERY
BETHEL COMMUNITY CEMETERY is located on the hilltop between Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Highway #276 and Bethel United Methodist Church off Sonoma Road, Haywood County, NC.
Because there is no physical address for the cemetery, the easiest way to access the location via GPS is to use the address of Bethel United Methodist Church, 804 Sonoma Road, Waynesville, NC 28786.
From Highway #276, visitors will see the cemetery on the hill across the street from the Dollar General Store. At the base of the hill on the east side of the cemetery, turn northwest on Market Street. Drive 0.2 mile and turn left onto Sonoma Road. Drive by the front of Bethel United Methodist Church and turn left to park in the church parking lot. Walk up the slope to access the cemetery via the parking lot/driveway behind Bethel United Methodist Church. The older portion of the cemetery is to the immediate right of the driveway. Newer plots are located to the left of the driveway. Visitors may also access the cemetery via a stairway off of Highway #276 across from Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Visitors may exit at the parking lot onto Sonoma Road or at the circular drive that merges with Market Street. The exit road that leads onto Highway #276 at the south end of the cemetery is precarious and not recommended.
The hilltop location provides a panoramic view of Bethel, also known as Pigeon Valley, which affords a captivating portrait of surrounding mountains.
Considered to be one of the oldest cemeteries in Haywood County, Bethel Community Cemetery was used as a burial location as early as the late 1700s. Originally known as “Graveyard Hill,” the cemetery was officially listed as a cemetery on December 19, 1854, when Elijah Deaver, Sr. entrusted two acres of land as a common burial ground to three original Trustees: William B. Cathey, Augustus Hargrove, and Andrew Wells.
The cemetery has expanded three times beyond its original Elijah Deaver donation. C.W. Wright sold adjoining property on one side, and the cemetery committee purchased another plot on the other side of the original cemetery. The cemetery committee purchased a third plot in 1987.
A board of five trustees provides governing oversight of cemetery finances, arranges maintenance and improvements of the grounds, and sell graves in the new sections of the cemetery. All trustees trace their roots to early settlers in Bethel Community, with some trustees tracking their history to the original trustees from 1854. The website includes a current list of trustees under the pull-down Contact menu.
*Contact and Donation Information
Plot Sales support upkeep for the newer sections of the cemetery. The oldest portion of the cemetery, however, is filled, and no sales are available to provide funding for maintenance. A cemetery committee consisting of volunteers from the community plans and implements a yearly fundraising event. Most members of this committee trace their roots to the early settlers of Bethel Community. Since 1955, friends, relatives, and people of the community have gathered annually for a memorial service on the second Sunday of July.
GRAVES AND GRAVE MARKERS
Gravestones include homemade stones, hand-carved decorative markers made by stonecutters, obelisks, ledgers, affluent monuments, and modern granite stones.
In his Cemeteries & Family Graveyards in Haywood County, NC, George Augustus Miller, Sr. estimates that the cemetery contains over five hundred unmarked graves. According to oral history, a number of tombstones on the north side of the burial grounds were removed in mid 20th century.
Approximately fifty of these missing stones are, according to oral history, considered to be 1800s unnamed slave graves. There are also burial sites for people who could not afford a stone. The Reverend Thomas Erwin and son, Paul, were concerned about the missing markers in the north side of the cemetery and hauled dozens of concrete cap blocks and aligned them in rows to denote the missing markers.
In 2009, Bethel Rural Community Organization provided oversight for a Girl Scout Gold Award project for Allison Cathey to catalogue the original historic section of Bethel Community Cemetery.
In spring of 2018, Bethel Cemetery Committee contracted a mapping project with husband-and-wife team, Stephen Ledford and Amy J. Honaker, for all sections of the cemetery. Ledford wrote and built the website that not only permits tracing of historical and gravesite information but also allows for linkage to other informational websites. Honaker provided photography for the website. The website mission is to provide online access to historical information for families and genealogy researchers. Ledford and Honaker documented 2,146 graves with the consideration that other graves have no marker.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND WEBSITE SEARCH LINKS
*Search memorials in Bethel Community Cemetery
*Bethel Community Cemetery Records Search (Alphabetical)
*Find a Grave Virtual Cemetery
*Visit NC Smokies
Bethel Community Cemetery website:
Coltman, Evelyn. Legends, Tales & History of Cold Mountain, Book 1. Waynesville, NC, 2005.
Coltman, Evelyn. Legends, Tales & History of Cold Mountain, Book 5. Waynesville, NC, 2009.
Miller, George Augustus, Sr. Cemeteries and Family Graveyards in Haywood County, North Carolina. Waynesville, NC, 1979.
* Bill Holbrook relayed oral history information.
*Carl Ledford, Trustee, provided data and commentary regarding directions, governance, funding, and the mapping project.
*Carol Litchfield provided directions
Article written by Evelyn M. Coltman
Historic Preservation Committee Chair
Bethel Rural Community Organization