Senator tours Pioneer Cemetery

Published 11:45 am Monday, March 30, 2009

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Sen. Jeff Sessions stepped away from Washington D.C. for the weekend and visited Greenville for a history lesson on Pioneer Cemetery.

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Members of the Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association discussed with Sessions their intentions to revitalize the county’s oldest cemetery and make it a historical stopping point for both locals and tourists.

Much work – thanks to Jennifer Stringer and the city’s horticulture department – has already been accomplished at the cemetery, said Anne Feathers.

“Jennifer and her crew were up there for several days cleaning out the underbrush and it looks a lot better then it did thanks to their work,” said Feathers.

But headstones remain layered with decades of dirt and grime. Ironwork covering some of the graves is rusted and several concrete slabs have cracked in half. An entire section of the cemetery’s south fence is missing.

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished with water and a brush,” Feathers said she had learned. “But we know for some of the intricate work on the gravestones we’re going to need professional help and that’s going to cost money.”

Miriam Nixon said the association is planning a workday for Saturday, April 25, one that should involve the entire community.

Walter Ray Parmer, a descendent of W.O. Parmer, believed Parmer Scholarship recipients should play a part in the cemetery’s revitalizations. W.O. Parmer, namesake of the city’s elementary school, left an endowment in the 1930s and since then 452 students have been scholarship beneficiaries.

The largest mausoleum in Pioneer Cemetery marks the resting place of W.O. Parmer.

Parmer said he has already received $3,825 from Parmer Scholars with future pledges of $1,900, for the cemetery.

“We believe Parmer Scholars can be of great benefit in helping Pioneer Cemetery,” he said.

Mayor Dexter McLendon said the city would help in any way it could. He asked Sessions about grants the city could administer from the federal government to help with the restoration.

“It’s going to take a lot of money,” he said. “But Pioneer Cemetery is important to us and it’s important to our downtown area.”

Sessions said he enjoyed the presentation.

“It’s clear Greenville is a city that cares about its environment and about how it looks,” he said.

Other presentations included: Barbara Middleton, who talked about the city’s long history with the camellia, Herbert Morton, who discussed the history of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and Jeddo Bell, who discussed the history of The House of God Church – Keith Dominion.