Charleston Cemetery Historic District

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, the Charleston Cemetery Historic District (CCHD) is a culturally significant landscape comprised of 23 religiously and culturally diverse cemeteries established between 1850 and 1956. Situated between the marsh of the Cooper River and the rapidly developing area along Meeting Street Road, the Cemeteries District occupies land formerly known as Magnolia Umbra Plantation.

Charleston Cemetery Historic District Task Force

The Charleston Cemetery Historic District (CCHD) Task Force was established in 2013 as a group of stewards and community stakeholders working collaboratively toward the long-term preservation of the CCHD’s 23 contributing cemeteries. The CCHD is located on land formerly comprising Magnolia-Umbra plantation. Considered an outstanding example of the Rural Cemetery Movement of the mid-nineteenth century, the CCHD is made up of a uniquely diverse collection of contributing cemeteries of a variety of religions, as well as African–American mutual-aid burial societies.

In 2013, the Preservation Society of Charleston completed a report on the history of the CCHD as well as a maintenance plan for the grounds. This foundation was utilized by Task Force member and founder of Board + Batten Preservation Rachel Parris to successfully nominate the CCHD to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. Over the years, the Task Force has worked together to raise awareness of this special place and its importance to the cultural and religious history of Charleston.

The growing Task Force is now actively engaged in developing a sustainable plan for future preservation of these grounds. Plans include the addition of interpretive signage that will enable the visitor to more fully understand the significance of this district to Charleston’s diverse history.

CCHD Current Participating Members

  • Bethany Cemetery
  • Brith Sholom Beth Israel
  • Brotherly Association
  • Brown Fellowship Society
  • Emanuel AME Church
  • Friendly Union Society
  • Humane & Friendly Society
  • Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim
  • Morris Brown AME Church
  • Old Bethel United Methodist Church
  • Reserved Fellowship Society
  • St. Lawrence Cemetery
  • Trinity AME/Harleston-Boags/Elmwood Cemetery
  • Unity & Friendship Society
  • Organizational members: Board + Batten Preservation, Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, Nelson Mullins, Preservation Society of Charleston

(National Register nomination form Sec. 7, p. 5.)

Historic Cemeteries

History

In 1781, a tract composed of 184½ acres of land and 100 acres of marsh was purchased by prosperous merchant Colonel William Cunnington, namesake of modern day Cunnington Avenue. Named Magnolia Umbra Plantation, the land functioned as a rural country seat for Cunnington, never developing into a productive, working plantation. Cunnington constructed a Federal style house on the property between 1798 and 1805 that currently serves as the administrative offices of Magnolia Cemetery Trust. Following the seizure of the property in 1804 to pay Cunnington’s debts, the tract was divided into smaller lots for the development of a “Village of Magnolia Umbra.”

The transformation of this land into a collection of cemeteries in the 1850’s followed a national trend in urban reform known as the Rural Cemetery Movement. This movement called for new burial grounds to be designed as picturesque landscapes on the outskirts of urban centers. The motives for the movement centered on promoting public health and creating public green space. These garden cemeteries were meant to encourage contemplative thought and repose from the age of industrialism.

Beginning in 1849, the rural property underwent an 18-month transformation process under the guidance of Charleston architect Edward C. Jones, hired to design Magnolia Cemetery, a picturesque burial ground for Charleston’s elite. In 1856, additional lots from the Village of Magnolia Umbra were sold for use as burial grounds by organizations representing a variety ethnicities and religious affiliations. Through the late 19th and 20th centuries, additional private burial grounds were developed. Encompassing more than 20 separate cemeteries, the CCHD provides a peaceful place to honor and reflect on our diverse past.