Do Not Migrate

This lecture is part of the 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit

(Re) removal and (Re) relocation of gravestones: First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina by Frances H. Ford

Hi. Let’s see if I make this work. A little overview of what I’m going to speak about this afternoon. First I’ll give you a short history of the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church where this particular removal happened. How this whole thing started in the nineteen fifties with the first removal and relocation. The part I was involved when just this past March. Then our current conservation efforts. Then our looking ahead to the two thousand ten relocation of these stones.

In the mid-nineteen fifties, the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church which was located promptly on the corner of Meeting and Trade Streets, in Charleston, South Carolina, determined that to accommodate a growing congregation, a fellowship called Opposite Sunday School needed to be built. The decision was made to build the construction over existing graves in the churchyard, moving the stones themselves to other areas of the church property. Most of the ledgers were placed vertically on existing brick walls to the south and west of this church building.

Presbyterian church members that I’ve spoken to attest to no written records, no description of the real location of the stones and there are only actually a few current church members that remember anything about it ever happening. Now fifty years later, the church has found it needed to expand again so two of its three existing buildings will be demolished. A new, larger structure built and again, the ledgers are going to move to accommodate the expansion.

A little history. The existing church structures are the fifth oldest in Charleston. It was built in eighteen fourteen. An original structure on the site was dated to seventeen thirty-one. The graveyard holds over fifty stones which date before eighteen fourteen. The oldest stone is the seventeen fifty stone of Alexander Libby, although the earliest burial is recorded as two year old Southern Cyril Witherspoon who died September fourteenth, seventeen thirty-four.

1880 Sandboard map

1880 Sandboard map

In nineteen fifty-seven, the graveyard committee minutes state that from that day onward, there would be no more new burial spaces granted. Existing, family-owned plots which have been used since that time if it could be determined there was space, were the only, have been the only new burials since the fifties.

The most recent addition to the churchyard has been a memorial tablet and cremation burial area. It is this new effort which was created out of congregational need, but also to generate funds to be used specifically for monument repair which will proceed with earnest after the building campaign is complete.

In the mid-nineteen fifties, when the church was trying to expand, this I found was the easiest way to describe to the community the layout of the church property. I have the eighteen eighty-eight, or eighteen eighty Sandboard map and it’s this is the corner that it sits on, Meeting and Trade. The church building and then the graveyard went all the way, three quarters of the way into the lot. That was all graveyard.

This of course, the nineteen sixty-two is going to show where the nineteen fifties building went so you’ll have to look at it in relation to this. Here is the huge building that’s going over what this graveyard was all the way down to here. I will say now because I don’t think it’s talked about lately, reclaimed an area right here for some relocations.

I’ve done a little research because the whole thing was very puzzling to me. After searching the church archives. Found copies of session minutes from nineteen fifty-six which first discussed the removal and relocation of the graves to accommodate the new structures if they wanted to build. The committee was called Expansion Committee and they were responsible for determining what physical facilities were required adequately to accommodate future program growth and to determine the location or locations where the suitable building or buildings should be erected. Not limiting themselves to the present church property, but rather to survey the availability of other property. If the committee judged it advisable, to purchase that property. Third, to secure an architects’ floor plan and company, artist sketches of the proposed construction. Fourth, to secure estimates of the cost of erecting the proposed construction and then of course to report the findings to the congregation with definite recommendations.

After receiving our report from the higher consultant, whose job was to determine the amount of space the church really required, the committee determined that the church property owned by the church was not going to be sufficient. Consideration of excavating under an existing Sunday school building, they decided it was too expensive and hazardous. Especially in Charleston, as you can imagine. And buying adjacent property was not a possibility as the committee received a negative response from all property owners of contiguous lands.

The committee determined that using a portion of the existing cemetery was going to be their only viable option. I quote, it says, “In order to do this in a proper manner, it will be necessary to disinter and re-inter the remains. It is unanimously recommended by the committee that this be done and it be done in the most dignified and professional manner possible. It is believed that one of the local undertaking firms should be employed to handle the removal of the graves and one of the monument firms to move the tombstones and replace them in a new part of the cemetery.”

Two hundred and ninety-seven graves were affected by this move. Permission from all known families was required and sought and a legal document was drawn up to be signed by each family. That’s, and this is the legal document that is sent. These are some letters found that were going back to a church member who was on the committee to find the heirs if there were any. The agreement basically states that you are giving consent. You consent and agree for myself and my family to the removal of the monument or monuments and remains, if necessary for construction. Another portion of the set graveyard. Sets removal to be a fixed fence of the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church of Charleston. Then of course to address the issue of unknown families, a friendly suit was brought, attained through the court process to for permission in case these were the descendants of the persons buried in the cemetery were unknown.

Although I’ve found no documents of the actual, physical process, I do know the companies who were involved and they are still actually doing business at Charleston so they’ll remain anonymous. The efforts, and I guess I was going to say this at one point too. Working as a conservator, I never blame those who come before me. They were doing the best they could with the information they had at the time, and that’s the way I work. I’m sure in fifty years, they’re going to think that I hate to say it. The real stone here, the yawn or something else that I use consistently, people are just like, “Ah! I hope that she gets that!”

This is the general process of what it looks like when they put these ledgers on the wall

This is the general process of what it looks like when they put these ledgers on the wall

Anyway, this is an area that will stay the way it is. This is the general process of what it looks like when they put these ledgers on the wall. A large majority were moved to existing walls in the front church aisle, yard along the side and west walls in the rear graveyard. Monuments and tablets were moved to that little slice of land I tried to show you on the same board at the beginning.

You remember what the Sandboard mat looked like. I know this is going a different direction, but this is a corner that the church is sitting on, Meeting and Trade. This is what’s left of the front graveyard. This is the building they actually are keeping because the DAR wouldn’t let them tear it down. What they have done, and I didn’t realize it until recently, is they totally gutted it. Then this building is a fellowship house by the way. This is the Sunday school from nineteen fifties. It’s going away. Then there was a brick wall that was right here around a existing house which now is property of the church and went all the way down here. On this wall, this is my wall and we’ll talk about that.

We fast forward to March, two thousand nine. Some fifty years later the congregation has, believe it or not, outgrown all its facilities again. They want to remain on the peninsula, so efforts to make room on the property lines have failed including a plan to move a church-owned building. That’s this residence. They wanted to move it to the street which actually on this portion of King Street, would’ve not been usual. Houses here are on the street. Not here on the street but they are sitting there. It didn’t happen so through a method similar to that used in the nineteen fifties, it was determined by committee that the best way to expand is to take everything down and go up and out. This current building expansion required the wall of this one. Right there. Which had been used as one of the places to relocate the stones in the nineteen fifties, be removed before the construction begins.

Eight nineteenth century ledger stones and one tablet face must be moved again. Needless to say, even from the beginning, the project raised real questions for the church and my firm of how we’re going to do it and do the best thing for the stones involved, of course. The removal of the stones and the demolition of the wall took four and a half days. Six men. One lucky woman, that was me. A bunk and a truck and that was one of the other wonderful tools. The brick wall was older than the church was aware. Very well constructed as you can see. It’s really very thick and spots. The stones have been set against what was thought to be an existing wall during the time of the Patten house construction because it was separating the house from the church property.

What’s this thing? We were thinking that were cavities. We could see the amount of Portland on the sides of about two inches. We think they were at that time created behind the stones attaching them along the vertical and horizontal as well, edges with cement. An aggregate. Then, what we found out later was that that really wasn’t what was hoped. The stones on the wall was something more exciting to be found on about day two.

I’m sorry. I didn’t do the slide ahead. This is the cavity we ended up finding behind the majority of the stones that were on the flat wall. Then this shows all the brick walls come off of the back where the Portland was put on the edges of the back.

This is the cavity we ended up finding behind the majority of the stones that were on the flat wall.

This is the cavity we ended up finding behind the majority of the stones that were on the flat wall.

On January one and actually it’s not in the photograph but we have a really big landscape issue. There were huge, overgrown shrubs and ivy which were covering to about this point the fronts of the stones and then the ivy was pouring over the edges at the top. It was a lot more time-consuming than we ever really anticipated. It slowed us up a little bit. The wall demolition began immediately afterwards. It moved quickly due to a combination of really inferior mortar, the infiltration of ivy roots which had never been controlled and very little pointing over time. The only tablet base involved in the project was this one of Captain James Ross. This stone is one that was very special to the church family, especially the community garden children who would go there. This was actually facing into their parking lot.

I think because of the card release of the sailing vessel as a top, their teachers had over time told them some ridiculous story of pirates and that there was buried treasure somewhere near this stone. Anyway. Here we go. The eastern portion of the brick wall came down fairly easily. The stone was exposed by working from the back to the front. A cinder block area which supported the Ross tablet was slowly dismantled until it was fully exposed. The tablet had previous repairs and we carefully exposed those as we were uncertain of its stability. The center horizontal break, separated and we found two quarter inch hollow, brass pins. People used to say weren’t doing much good.

The upper break held as did the lower portion of the stone and the base. We didn’t fool with it. As you can see, we immediately got all that moved so the rest of the wall could come down and I ended up quickly from this stone, show you that we have gone ahead. Just because it’s such an important stone for the church and it’s been repaired, cleaned. A new base was poured in a spot of honor, chosen in the front church yard. It’s already been replaced.

With the work on the eastern wall, which was this of course, complete the job at the north wall began. The northern section of the wall held eight ledger stones, always visible by a logical growth. Some previous repairs and other repair props. The new portion of the cinder block wall was demolished to gain access to the first section of stones not knowing how stable they would be. The wall behind them was removed, a support system was put in place. There you go. Which secured the stones to the house just behind them. When the full length of the stone was revealed …

most of the stones sat down and as much as eighteen inches below grey

Most of the stones sat down and as much as eighteen inches below grey

The carpenter on site would get to work building a box and port the stone could fit into when it was being removed. What became immediately apparent was that the brick wall and the globs of Portland around the backs of the stone were not really what were securing them at all. The least of our problems, but most of the stones sat down and as much as eighteen inches below grey, and sandwiched between cinder blocks in some areas and then even worse, areas of granite rock. Pneumatic drill and chisels came to the site and were used to try to break up the Portland bed and as we were loosening it, we found that just a normal water spray out of a garden hose really helped to loosen and break the stone free.

Then, the crate would be put in position as all hands are called to move the ledger into the bottom of the box where it was then secured. The box, whoops. There you go. The box strapped and lifted with the arm of the bottle pap here and then into the waiting truck. The importance of the correct piece of lifting machinery and instances like this should not be overlooked, a system that can supply a smooth lift was for this project, a Bobcat with hydraulic cylinder pump and also key, in addition to it, an experienced operator was in this case a spotter. We actually called him our spotter. We were all very nervous and of course trying to be amazingly careful.

As we got to what was day three, we came to the second section of the wall that held the last four ledgers in place. The wall appeared to be similar to the construction of the first half as it was dismantled but the Portland mix which was used to secure the ledgers in the ground was found to be a stronger mix with less aggregate. Although a similar system was being used to loosen the stones, the Portland was causing more damage. It became clear that it was a homemade mix produced onsite which was creating a random strength. One extra shovel full of Portland then now making a huge difference to the removal process. The addition of the granite curb on average less than two inches from the stone face, caused the biggest obstacle. Dealing just with the Portland was difficult enough but this curb required hacking into it to release little sections and then free the bottom ledgers.

Already the deteriorating stone was detaching as a process progressed. Thankfully most of the loss is on the backs of the stones where they were attached to the wall, but lower edges were the most vulnerable and even with the utmost care, we lost three corners. One which we were able to save. One not saved, which will be resculpted beyond a marble repair mortar. The other reattached and we actually have the capability in our shop to craft Dutchman repairs similar. We’ll have a stonemason take care of the larger corner.

Then as I suppose it always is the last stone that was the most difficult. Didn’t want to go anywhere so it also it was one of the only stones that we could really, really see very visible here cracking. We knew we were in for trouble in the beginning so we were taking extra precautions, extra clamping were put in to support the stone as it became free and the bottom was loosened. The stone was placed very carefully in its box just like the others. Secured and pulled up to be set down before budding on the truck and was pushed along that.

Of course then, the crack went fully through. This repair as all others, are now being worked on at our North Charleston shop. The Captain James Ross stone has been repaired as you saw earlier and put in the front church yard. The ledger stones have been closely watched as they experienced an increase in biological growth. After the first six weeks after they were removed. The storage crates have had to be moved around and ventilation. When it was the humid, really hot months and the really rainy part of the spring, we had little fans on during the day just to try to remediate any additional damage that could be occurring.

They're going to go outside on a brick wall that looks very similar to this

They’re going to go outside on a brick wall that looks very similar to this

Last month, I had my second year graduate students who loved to get dirty, so this was a great opportunity for them. They were sent up to do some of the culinary cleaning. They used a very acrylic pale and clay poultice on the stones. They look much better. Than I’m beginning very slowly, some of the repairs to the stones.

The first choice for a reallocation of the ledgers has just recently been determined that after these new … Okay. That after these new footings for the new building have just been poured, that the wall that they wanted to use is not going to be tall enough to accommodate these ledgers. The church had hoped to showcase them as you walked out the front doors and into the new fellowship hall. Looking on the wall that they share with the Nathaniel Brussels House. Because of where they poured the first floor grave, has something to do with the elevator shaft, it’s not going to work. Now we’re looking at a wall on the opposite side that actually belongs to a carriage house that’s already in existence there.

They’re going to go outside on a brick wall that looks very similar to this. We’re going to use stainless steel cramps into the, we’ll drill into the mortar joints on the wall and most likely it’ll take a long time to make this decision. Probably a silty, foundational e-poxy will be used to hold the pins. The completion date for the church is this next summer. At that time we’ll make the final decision. I need to thank my amazing crew. Nothing like five men listening to a woman. It’s unbelievable. Hoek, Will, Beaux, Micheal and Shorty who described themselves as, I saw them last week, I said, “Tell me about that project.” They said, “Well just describe us as the most self-confident crew ever.” What more does a girl need? They were just the best. Actually when, believe it or not, this is a real building all three stories of it, we’ll be working in. Thank you very much.

In the late 1950s the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, located prominently on the corner of Meeting and Tradd Streets in Charleston, South Carolina, decided to build a fellowship hall, office and Sunday school building. The decision was made to build the new structure over existing graves in the churchyard, moving the stones themselves to other areas of the church property. Most of the ledgers were placed vertically on existing brick walls to the south and west of the church building. No written records attest to the relocation of the stones, and only a few church members can recall it happening. 50 years later the church needs to expand again, so two of its three existing buildings will be demolished and new, larger structure built.
This plan requires that a wall in the center of the property, which had been used as one of the places to relocate the gravestones in the 1950s, be removed before construction begins, so eight of the 19th century ledger stones and one tablet and base must again be moved. The project raised real questions for the church staff and the conservator hired to move and conserve the stones. How exactly had the stones originally been attached to the walls and with what type of material? Would they break when removed from the wall? How best to pack them for the move? Where would they be stored and how? How much repair would be necessary? And ultimately where in the area of the new building could these stone be moved for the third (and hopefully) last time?
The removal of the stones and demolition of the wall took four and one half days, six men, one woman, a bobcat and a truck. The brick wall was older than the church was aware of and very well constructed. The stones had been set against it in the 1950s with cavities behind them, attached at the corners with varying mixtures of Portland cement and aggregate. The biggest surprise being was that the stones had been buried an average of 18 inches below grade, sandwiched between a granite curb and Portland cement. The stones were removed, packed and taken off?site for conservation. This procedure will be discussed in the paper, as will the final manner of reinstalling the ledgers on another existing wall on the church property.

Author Biography:
Frances Ford has an undergraduate degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning from the
College of Charleston (2003) and a Master’s in Historic Preservation (concentrating in building conservation) from the University of Pennsylvania (2006). She currently works as an independent conservator, operating Ford Restored, a company that specializes in cemetery conservation issues as well as heading conservation initiatives for Richard Marks Restorations, a nationally known restoration contracting company based in Charleston. She is much in demand for her skills in cemetery restoration and stone conservation, and has been entrusted with the repair of some of the oldest graves in Charleston. She also teaches conservation for the joint Clemson/College of Charleston master’s program in Historic Preservation, located in Charleston.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119