Gravestones and cemeteries both record the past and provide a tangible link to it. Not only are they historical, but cemeteries are a tangible reminder of our own mortality. They are open-air museums, parks, and nature preserves, along with accessible historical repositions. Cemeteries can be visited to connect us with our past, while at the same time teaching us about the communities in the area.
Avery County has had one published cemetery study. In the 1970s, Martha Pyatte put together "Lest We Forget: An Index to Avery County Cemeteries."For many years, the Avery Museum reprinted the book. Currently, it is out of print. It needs a serious reworking to include new graves and cemeteries recently found. However, with the advent of findagrave.com, such an undertaking seems unlikely. There are copies available for perusal at the Avery Museum and local libraries.
One of Ms. Pyatte's accomplishments was the of gathering some local history. She considered the cemetery at Collett's Field, off the Old Yonahlossee Road, which contained three unmarked graves, "one of the oldest burying grounds in Avery." The Buck Ridge Cemetery, on the Avery-Mitchell County line, contains the grave of John Vance, who fought and won the only duel "ever fought in this section." Not only is Peter Hardin, a slave who worked in the Cranberry Iron Mines, buried in the cemetery that bears his name, but so is the Rev. J. T. Turder, a slave who ran away and joined the 40th United States Colored Troops.
A few cemeteries that Miss Pyatte managed to record were almost lost by the time she reached them. A good example is the Baird Cemetery in Newland.
Cemeteries are meant to be explored and visited, and the people buried within remembered. If you do visit a cemetery, take only pictures and leave only flowers. Cemeteries are precious pieces of the past that need to be preserved for future generations.