Uncovering Local History

by | Jun 26, 2023 | Around Town, Sneads Ferry

With the help of volunteers, Terry Kramer is on a mission to save historic Yopp Cemetery and honor the historic figures of Sneads Ferry.

Since February 2022, a small group of volunteers has been clearing brush, cleaning headstones and learning about the families buried in a historic cemetery in Sneads Ferry. Terry Kramer, her husband, Steve Kramer, and an assortment of individuals have worked diligently to transform Yopp Cemetery from an overgrown, perhaps forgotten, piece of property to a flower-filled local treasure.

“We had been going by the cemetery for a few years and couldn’t believe someone wasn’t taking care of it,” Terry Kramer says.

After much research, she found that Yopp Cemetery is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and held graves dating back to the late 1840s. Many of those graves belong to the Yopp family as well as the Midgett family and other families long established in the Sneads Ferry area. There is also a segregated section for African Americans in the cemetery. Representatives from five wars are buried there as well, from the Civil War through World War II. And yet the cemetery has been neglected for decades, until Kramer decided that something had to be done.

Kramer connected with Heather Whitfield, who had been posting on social media about cleaning headstones at the cemetery. The two met and walked around the property together, inspiring Kramer to organize volunteers and make a difference for the historic site.

As to why she would spend so much time and energy on cleaning up a cemetery that has no connection to her personally, Kramer says, “It just drew us, talked to us.” She and Steve moved to North Topsail Beach five years ago from Wisconsin, where they had been involved in many similar projects.

Cemetery and Grave Repairs Pender NC

Yopp Cemetery covers about 4 acres, and Kramer estimates they have cleaned up about three-fourths of it so far. She credits Whitfield for recruiting Marine volunteers, who cleaned and cleared a huge portion of the space, revealing even more headstones. “A lot of headstones would surprise us,” Kramer says. “They were buried under brush.” The stories behind those headstones have fascinated Kramer and the others working on cleaning up the cemetery.

Located along N.C. Highway 172, the church by the cemetery was established in 1890. Yopps Meeting House was also once known as the Yopps Primitive Baptist Church. Jeremy Yopp deeded the land in 1813.

The description in the National Register describes the cemetery: “East and north of the edifice are cemeteries containing burials for white and black members. Family plots nearest the church are enclosed by ironwork fences and contain stone and concrete markers. Further afield, both the white and black areas display masonry markers as well as rare, wooden head- and footboards, a regional feature of Primitive Baptist graveyards.”

Kramer learned that the original church burned but then the congregation built this current church. She also learned that during services it would not be unusual to have five to seven preachers. The service would be extensive and then families would gather afterward, spreading chicken wire between posts and putting out a meal. Sunday service would essentially be an all-day affair. The church was supposed to be “a free place of worship by all denominations.” The last service was held at the meeting house in 1925.

Within the cemetery, graves date from the 1840s. Many do not have headstones but rather are indicated by wooden markers. Kramer says that there were pine needles covering up a lot of the stones. She also pointed out that some of those headstones were handmade out of concrete.

Some of the stones are very weathered and starting to fall over, but because the cemetery is an official historic site, Kramer says they are not allowed to alter the headstones without permission. Work to clean up the cemetery, uncover those historic markers and refurbish the yard and the church building has been ongoing and challenging. The Marine volunteers helped tremendously, but the program they were participating in has ended. Steve bought a riding lawn mower and other tools that were necessary to clear out some of the brush. In addition, the Kramers paid to have the water hooked up so they could water the plants.

Cemetery Repairs Pender NC

Volunteers do come out to help, although Kramer says she is looking for more, as well as financial help. They ask for small donations to cover their costs and are actively seeking grants for restoring the cemetery and the church, particularly given the historic significance of both.

One volunteer, Doug Smith, was instrumental in securing the church roof, a much-needed repair for maintaining the integrity of the historic structure. Others have been key to the progress made over the past year and a half.

“Matthew Salmons and his landscaping crew have been so much help that I truly believe we couldn’t have made it through the extreme heat this past summer without them,” Kramer says. “He is a hero to us.”

Kramer says that there have been many volunteers, some of whom just came once. “It all helps,” she says.

She cites Tim Supple’s social media work in the Sneads Ferry Village News Facebook group with helping spread the word. Supple’s business, Ace Hardware, also donated mulch for the project. Local restaurants also donated meals to groups of volunteers. “Those are the kinds of things that help,” Kramer says.

Other volunteers have included visitors from Minnesota and New Jersey. Neighbors Dave and Sandi Soles have helped since the beginning, working the events, leaf blowing, headstone cleaning and contributing financially. Steve has been integral in organizing and supervising volunteers.

The work is important to the Kramers as more headstones — and more history — are revealed. They note that they are still trying to find records and welcome anyone to contribute any information they might have. It’s critical to them and to the community that the stories are not lost.

Sneads Ferry Cemetery NC

“Douglas Yopp is our closest tie to the property,” Kramer says. He has helped with cleaning his family’s spots and has donated tools such as rakes for clearing the land. Douglas is third cousin to Robert Yopp Jr., who came out for the first event, Kramer notes. Robert Yopp told Kramer, “I want to do what I can,” and then gave her some papers that contained a list of the people buried in the cemetery. Unfortunately, he died five days later.

Kramer is on a mission to save the building and the cemetery.

Among other goals, she wants “to use equipment to find people buried for which there are no markers.” She plans to launch a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the cemetery and the meeting house. The group has been selling Yopp historic t-shirts as a fundraiser. Kramer envisions a museum or other venue on the site as a place for visitors to learn more about the historic figures of Sneads Ferry.

“I am not a good retired person,” Kramer says. “I have to do something with myself. This is my calling, where I’m supposed to be. I don’t know how many people have thanked us for what we’re doing out there.”

Want to help?
Yopp Cemetery Restoration
To learn more and to get involved, contact: Terry Kramer
(715) 808-4157
ruthieskids@live.com
facebook.com/groups/683655782827802/

About the author

Pat Fontana

Pat Fontana

I am a business writer and communications workshop leader. My business, WordsWorking, and my recently published book, Talk to Me Like I’m a Human, focus on improving workplace communications, concentrating on the fundamentals of human interactions. I developed, write about and train on the concept of REAL Communications, encouraging others to communicate with Respect and Empathy, paying close Attention and Listening with intent. I can be reached at pat@words-working.net.