Whether Bob L. Gullins and his son James H. Gullins were buried near each other more than a century ago in Old Shiloh, their original community, we’ll never know. That property is now the Biltmore Estate.
But for the last 94 years, as far as researchers can tell, the Gullins’ flat, weathered headstones have lain about two feet apart in the Shiloh AME Zion Cemetery in Shiloh, or what the residents called New Shiloh when they rebuilt the community in 1889. The community, its church and cemetery were relocated to their current site in South Asheville by George Vanderbilt when he purchased the land for his estate, which included the African American community as well.
The cemetery, adjacent to the Shiloh AME Zion Church, just east of Hendersonville Road, is the burial ground for members of the church and for those reinterred from Old Shiloh — many former slaves and most with only a field stone to mark their graves because they could not afford a headstone.
But thanks to the 828 Digital Archives for Historical Equity project, the Shiloh community and its descendants will have a database to help them locate their loved ones. Members of the 828 project presented a prototype of the digital exhibit Saturday, Sept. 10, to the Shiloh Community Association during its 14th annual Historic Shiloh Community Celebration.
“We’re working on a very particular prototype to create basically a website dedicated to Shiloh history. We’re trying to create an exhibition online,” said Catherine Amos, project assistant for the 828 project.
Ellen Holmes Pearson, professor of history at UNC Asheville and a co-founder of 828, said “as part of our course work, our curriculum and also with this project, is to create a more inclusive history of Asheville and Western North Carolina.”
There are 17 students who make up the UNCA research team, and those who participate in the project conduct headstone surveys and other research on some of those interred in the cemetery, Holmes Pearson said. “We’re helping to put together these digital histories, these stories of this place and the people who helped to build Asheville.”
Amos said the intent is to eventually achieve national historic status for the cemetery, but to do so requires intense attention to detail during the headstone survey. “You’re going around making notes of every single headstone, taking measurements, descriptions, sizes, all the detailed information of the stones, the physical layout of the cemetery and the condition it’s in. That’s the most important part,” she said.
Tori Rigsby, a senior history major at UNCA, who was born and raised in Asheville, said it was humbling to spend such an intimate time with those whose lives were somewhat invisible.
“It’s something that means something to so many people and just the fact that we were there, we were probably, for some of these headstones, the first people to say these names out loud and touch them in years,” he said. “It comes with a lot of gravitas. It’s meaningful, especially to those people who felt, in their lifetime, as though they were not as important as others.”
Hayley Kintz, a junior history major at UNCA, said although she was raised in Asheville, she was unaware of the Shiloh history until she started working with the 828 project as a research assistant. She also works on a second 828 project in South Asheville.
“It’s been really amazing to learn about a whole new sect of Asheville’s history that I didn’t previously know about and it’s just been totally wonderful to connect with this community and to be able to do the work that we’re doing. It’s just been phenomenal,” she said.
For more information about the Shiloh community, visit shilohnc.org. For more information about 828 Digital Archives for Historical Equity project, visit 828archives.org.
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