History of the Cemetery
The cemetery land was given as a land grant to the University of North Carolina by the State of North Carolina. The land encompassed 125 acres, and was sold for five shillings on October 21, 1776. The cemetery currently covers 6.98 acres.
The first recorded burial was George Clarke, a Burke County student at the
university, who passed away September 28, 1798.
His headstone was not placed until several years later. By January
28, 1994, 1,621 burials had been performed. The cemetery is
now almost full, and all of the plots have already been bought. In 1922,
the town took over responsiblity for maintaining the cemetery, and in 1988, the ownership changed over to the University.
A low rock wall was built around the cemetery in 1835
at the cost of $64.41. The school officially named the cemetery "College
Graveyard," as opposed to "Village Cemetery," like the Chapel Hill
residents called it. Five sidewalks divide the cemetery into six sections.
Two of the sections were reserved for African-American burials because there were no black church cemeteries in town. A low rock wall divides the two segregated sections (Sections A and B) from the rest. The University of North Carolina Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies
were the first to establish plots. In the other sections, there are
administrators and professors, as well as prominent public officials,
business leaders, and artists from the area. During the Civil War,
Confederate soldiers were buried there.
There are many different styles of grave markers represented in the cemetery. Many of the early family plots are marked by monuments and obelisks with smaller tablets marking individual graves. There are also uninscribed fieldstones, headstones, ledgers, boxtombs, and tomb-tables in the newer sections. Marble and granite were used most frenquently, but stone and concrete can also be found.
The Old Chapel Hill Cemetery is not just a
resting place for the deceased. It remains an intergral part of campus life. For many students, the quiet, secluded setting is an ideal place to relax or study. Diverse species of trees, such as oaks, hickories, gums, cedars, maples, and pines, create a cover of shade in the cemetery. There are also shrubs, like boxwoods, azaleas, nandinas, and crape myrtles, around many of the plots. During the spring, dogwood trees, azaleas and wisteria make the cemetery one of the most beau spots on campus. Some of the individual gravestones are covered by English ivy and vinca. A gazebo has been built between Section B and Section 1 and provides a convienent place to sit.
Vandilism has been a major problem in the cemetery.
Whether the culprits are just careless or actually meaning to cause
damage, the cemetery has had many tombstones ruined throughout the years.
Five 19th century headstones were tipped over and smashed the
day before Charles Kuralt was buried in the cemetery. On November
27, 1974, 40 to 50 monuments were broken and pushed off
their bases. In 1985, football fans eager to get good seats for the
Clemson game parked in Sections A and B causing even more damage to the old and fragile grave markers.