Crime & Courts

Revolutionary War-era Rock Hill cemetery vandalized

Apparently criminals in York County are now even trying to rob the dead.

And not just any dead – the historic dead dating back to the American Revolution and York County’s earliest white settlers.

York County deputies are investigating a case of possible grave robbing.

A wary and alert history lover named Sheila Caldwell, who lives on Eden Terrace Extension just east of the Riverwalk property near the Catawba River, noticed graves had been dug up in the old Sturgis cemetery that sits in woods near her property.

Several holes and pits had been dug, a couple of them more than a couple of feet deep. Some old gravestones, lettering long-gone, are broken, too.

The cemetery was free of vandalism free in April the last time she looked.

“To disturb a grave – and a historic grave at that – it just is incomprehensible,” said Caldwell, who was once a local radio personality. “This is York County’s history right here.”

Daniel Sturgis, who died in 1787, is buried in the cemetery not far from where his old homestead sat. He was a Revolutionary War patriot and one of the settlers ceded land in the area.

Other stones that date back almost as long dot the little knoll under centuries-old trees off the gravel road. The names are Schooley and Washington and Wilkerson – York County names as old as there have been last names here.

Only someone who knew where the cemetery was could have found it.

And worse, only someone who thought there might be value in digging through graves as old as America would desecrate the spot.

It remains unclear what the grave robbers took – bones, relics or potential treasure buried beneath the hard red clay.

The area north of Celriver Road is close to where Sturgis and his descendants ran a trading post and operated a ferry across the Catawba River along a trade route that dates back to pre-Columbian days of the Catawba Indians.

Before she noticed that the graves had been disturbed, Caldwell said, she had contacted a Columbia-based historical society that specializes in restoring old gravesites and cemeteries.

Caldwell and York County sheriff’s deputies have tried to reach the owners of the property, but so far have had no luck.

The case has quickly turned into a whodunit – and a whydunit.

“What they were looking for, or what they took, no one knows,” Caldwell said.

Deputies who came to the site Thursday were appalled by the desecration. The case has been assigned to detectives, a York County Sheriff’s spokesperson said.

The site sits within earshot of the Giordana Velodrome bicycle track to the west and is within a short walk of the Catawba River and the Riverwalk development and walking trail.

The area soon will be home to luxury townhouses and more. It is close enough to the present and future to almost reach out and touch it. Yet the cemetery is planned to be protected from development by a woods and far out of sight.

But, apparently, not even zoning laws can protect history from grave-robbing vandals.