ROCK HILL, S.C. — A Rock Hill realtor decided to hike through a 3.5-acre commercial property she had just listed for sale when she made a startling discovery.
“Fifteen years in real estate and this has never happened,” said Kimberly Gaffney, who found a tomb in a small wooded area on Saluda Road. “As we were walking down the property border, property line, I’d seen this thing sitting up and I thought it was a front porch, the remains of a house.”
It was remains, but not the remains of a house. In fact, there was no evidence that a house had ever been on the property, and no water and sewer lines run to it either.
Instead, Gaffney found a large concrete tablet with four concrete walls sticking out of the ground, with a headstone on top of it.
It reads: “William Mason Chisolm, 1905-1962.”
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m standing on somebody’s grave. I’ve got to get out of here,’” Gaffney said. “You know, and then the next thing that came to mind was, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to sell this?’”
The current owner bought the land about 10 years ago, paying just $5,000 at a delinquent tax sale.
Now, the asking price for the 3.5-acre site is $300,000. It’s zoned as light commercial, which allows for many uses, short of a large industry.
Frankie Greene of Greene Funeral Home told Channel 9 that long ago, burials like this weren’t unusual, and it also wasn’t unusual for there to be no record of it either.
“That was probably not in the city, and it was pretty common for people to bury people on their property outside the city,” Greene said.
What is unusual is the location, because there is no sign that anyone lived there. Chisolm, however, did own the land before it appears his family moved away after his death and stopped paying taxes on it.
There’s another surprise, too. The Herald newspaper wrote an article about Chisolm, only seven years ago, during Black History Month, in 2014. During the segregation era, Chisolm spent his own money to buy school buses so Black children who lived in the country could get to school. He even drove them himself, reported Herald reporter Andrew Dys.
Chisolm also put a water line out to Crawford Road, where Black families lived with no running water.
Chisolm, who went by Willie, was a local hero.
He was also known for a store he owned, and that’s where he died. His death certificate said he was shot and killed there in September 1962.
Gaffney said she was determined to find any of Chisolm’s living relatives, and so she started searching.
“This has been here for 59 years and there’s family for this man, I’m sure,” Gaffney said.
Chisolm’s family across the country heard about our report.
“Yesterday a cousin, Gloria, called me and said it was on the news, and Allen called me and said it was on the news,” Pam Chisolm said. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Allen Chisolm is another cousin who lives in Rock Hill.
“Willie was a brilliant man back in that time, because he did a lot for the Black community,” he said.
William Chisolm’s relatives are hoping to move his remains to a cemetary across town where his parents lie. Channel 9 learned that being a community servant ran in the family. His mother is honored with a statue and an inscription on her grave.
“He’ll be near his mother, and maybe he’ll rest in peace,” Allen Chisolm said.
Gaffney also contacted the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the York County Coroner’s Office. If the remains are removed, DHEC will have to approve it.
(WATCH: Graves disturbed when driver trenches graveyard)
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