BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR RIVER STYX CEMETERY

The River Styx Cemetery has always been easy to see as you drive by it, but the receiving vault on the south side of this pioneer burial ground – not so much. Passers by would catch a glimpse of the stone structure – located, literally, inside of a small hill – raising their curiosities as to what might be contained inside.

River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
The front of the receiving vault as it has looked for decades.

History holds that it was built in or about 1844 and used like many such vaults – to `receive’ the corpses of the deceased and keep them until they could be buried. The frozen ground during northeast Ohio winters can be unforgiving and made the digging of graves nearly impossible at times – before the advent of modern power equipment. An additional – and considerably darker – purpose of this vault was noted in the 1881 History of Medina County (pg. 475):

“At Wilson’s Corners, there having been several cases of grave-robbing, the citizens constructed quite a large receiving vault in their little cemetery a short distance south from the village. This vault is still in good condition, and is the only one of the kind in Guilford Township.”

The cemetery, which dates back to at least 1838, has been maintained by Guilford Township in recent years and has been generally well-kept but the area on and around the receiving vault has been overgrown for many decades. With an interest in revitalizing the cemetery, some local volunteers – organized by Charlie Selzer – have already made a noticeable improvement.

River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
The front of the receiving vault as it appears today.

Tammy Collins, whose son Luke was interred in the newer section of the cemetery after his passing in 2016, enlisted the help of six of his friends from the Wadsworth graduating class of 2014: Andrew Sidol, Tyler Erbse, Dylan Grazier, Daniel Wuth, Robbie Bosley, and Brooke Braman.

On Saturday, August 6th, along with additional volunteers Woody Smith, Tom Lethco, and myself, decades of weeds, thorns, brush, and other debris was cleared and hauled away so that the vault and south side of the cemetery can be presentable again.

River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
Several trailer loads of brush and debris (right) were removed as the hill was cleared (left).

River Styx Market supplied water to the crew during the cleanup. Later on, hot dogs (prepared by Troy Selzer) along with chips, beverages and ice cream were had by all.

The secluded and creepy appearance of the structure had been a magnet not just for the curious but also loiterers. The two iron gates did allow for peeks inside but vandals still attempted to enter the vault and did serious damage to them.

River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
The iron gates to the receiving vault.

Following a few hours of hard work by Woody Smith and Tom Lethco, the gates were finally removed and will be restored by Joe Garn who lives just down the road from the cemetery. They will then be remounted and locked – this time more securely – to maintain the integrity of this valuable, historical landmark.

River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
Tom Lethco and Woody Smith carefully remove the iron gates that secured the entrance.
River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
The damage to these gates by vandals is going to be repaired.
River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
Entrance after the iron gates were removed.
River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault
Inside the receiving vault.

River Styx Cemetery Receiving Vault

The inside of the vault measures ten feet in width, eighteen feet in length, and is eight feet tall at its greatest height. There are no bodies buried inside of it. Structurally, it is in remarkably good shape given its age and lack of regular upkeep; with only minor damage to a few areas. The rubble found inside has many origins: one structural piece from the wall, another large piece from the outside somewhere, some pieces of broken pottery/urns, some pieces of rock/mortar from the ceiling inside, a few that were just plain rocks (a lot of those at this cemetery), and even a few fragments of an old tombstone.

River Styx Cemetery, L.G. Wilson
These might be pieces of the original headstone for L.G. Wilson.

The plan is for further cleanup work in the future which may also include the cleaning and repair of several tombstones. The layout of the old section is being reconstructed and a few more previously, unknown burials have been documented in this process. Check back to this website for further updates on the project as well as information about the history of River Styx Cemetery and the people buried there.

FREDERIC JONES: REVOLUTIONARY WAR VETERAN?

Within the cemeteries of Medina County, Ohio there can be found many headstones marking the final resting places of men who served our nation during times of war. These monuments tend to make us pause longer than most. We ponder the sacrifices made and our gaze upon these markers carries down with it gratitude and respect. While the tombstones of some veterans are clearly engraved with details of the individual’s military service, others are not. Hiding in plain sight, they simply stand there quietly waiting for someone to recognize them. Identifying them requires specific knowledge usually found by searching military records.

Frederic Jones, who is buried in the Old Town Graveyard in Medina, is said to be one such `hidden veteran’. It has been reported by various persons over the years that this Fred Jones was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. After reviewing the evidence, it is my opinion that this Fred Jones is absolutely not a veteran of the Revolutionary War. While I cannot pinpoint exactly how the mixup occurred, I do believe I can show why the mixup exists.

Let me begin with the two primary sources in this debate:

1. A military record exists for a Fred R. Jones who enlisted May 5, 1777 in Rhinebeck, Duchess County, New York as a private in Lieutenant Cornelius Elmandorph’s Company, commanded by John R. Livingston, the proprietor of the Powder Mill in Rhinebeck. Fred served one month and 27 days before being discharged on June 30, 1777. The military record is an actual document and not in dispute. That being said, all this means is that a man with the common name of Fred Jones served briefly in the Revolutionary War. We’ll call this `Dot #1’.

2. A headstone in the Old Town Graveyard (Old Medina Cemetery). It has been said to read: “Frederic Jones, died Aug. 20, 1811, aged 60y”. Do the math and that means he was born in 1751. This is `Dot #2’.

DSC04382

How these two `dots’ were connected is still a mystery to me. Any presumption that they are the same man is certainly a stretch without some form of corroborating evidence. None exists. Where was this man in the years between 1777 and 1811? When or why did he come from New York to Ohio? Why are there no family members or descendants either buried with him or found in Ohio afterwards? These are very important questions that need answering if one is to make the connection between a man who was in New York in 1777 and one who died in Ohio in 1811. That’s 34 years and a lot of miles.

THE HEADSTONE

The biggest problem with this debate is the thing which led me to notice it in the first place. The Fred Jones buried in Medina didn’t die in 1811. The tombstone was read incorrectly. Look at the enlarged photo below:

DSC04383

Specifically, focus on the year of his death. That 1811 doesn’t look quite right, does it? The first 1 and the 8 are fine but the last two digits – 1 and 1 – seem suspect. Look at the spacing of those numbers as compared to the first two digits. They are spaced a bit wider aren’t they? That is because they aren’t ones (1) at all. Those are number fours (4). This Frederic Jones died August 20, 1844 at the age of 60 years. That means he was born in 1784 and could not have fought in the Revolutionary War.

Looking at the stone might not be enough to convince everyone. After all, the recording of worn 4’s as 1’s is the most commonly made mistake when reading tombstones. The `nose’ of the four is engraved thinner and lighter than the `upright’ of the number is. See an example of this below:

1864

Add in decades of weathering and you have a bunch of fours that look like ones.

WE SEE FOURS

It isn’t just the headstone today that supports this 1844 date. In 1910, the Gazette ran a series of articles which detailed the individuals buried in the Old Medina Cemetery. Indeed, over a hundred years ago, the July 22, 1910 Gazette (pg. 7) proves that someone read this same headstone and recorded it with the date of 1844. The article would point out interesting tidbits about persons or families buried there and it makes no additional reference to Jones as a person of interest. Just another burial from the 1840’s…..

Even the survey of the stones completed by the Medina County Genealogical Society for its 1983 book, Tombstone Inscriptions from the Cemeteries in Medina County, Ohio, was able to come away with the date of 1841. They misread the age as 50 instead of 60 though that is the precise area where the stone is broken.

How could someone have misread the stone as 1811? The photo above was taken on a bright sunny day with perfect contrast on the area in question. If someone were reading the headstone on a gloomy day or with less than ideal lighting, the stone could easily appear to say 1811 to a person inexperienced in what to look for. The photo is taken from straight away at ground level. Any person standing, or even crouching a bit, would lack this ideal view. That’s how the stone could be misread as 1811.

Rather, the question should be: how have three different persons over the span of 100 years (1910-2010) gotten fours from the same date where others have gotten ones?

When the details of the number four (nose, etc.) are worn away, distinguishing it from a number one can be difficult. One can look at the two numbers (like on our Frederic Jones stone) and see how this occurs. We know the first digit is a number one. Compare it to the last two digits and they are mostly indistinguishable. Go back to 1910 and we have a headstone that would have been much less worn. Someone looked at that headstone and saw two number fours. There must have been details of the numbers still visible. Back in 1983, someone still saw enough to write down 1841. Today, I cannot make claim to viewing any of those lost details. My conclusion is based on area history and the spacing between the last three numbers.

Explaining the spacing involves some background also:

The spacing between the 1 and 8 is not much different than the spacing between the 8 and the first 4. The spacing between the first 4 and second 4 is much greater. Why is this?

Below I typed the two dates:

1844
1811

Shown exactly as they were typed, and without making any spaces, note where the `uprights’ of the number ones are situated within the space allotted for each digit. Compare this to where the `uprights’ are located for the number fours. See how the ones are situated more to the left?

This is important because if one assumes that the space between the first number one and the eight is representative of the entire date, you could suggest that it is really 1814. Actually, the space between the digits is much smaller with the number one occupying its normal `to the left’ positioning. Then keep in mind that the space between the two fours represents the combined area of three things: the tail of the first four, the actual space between the numbers, and the nose of the second four. I had wondered this myself but if you print out the photo of the stone’s date and draw in the fours, it all makes sense.

1844

OTHER CONFLICTS

From almost twenty years of experience reading old tombstones in Medina County, I can tell you that anytime I see a date in the 1810’s it draws my attention. It’s not impossible, but it is rare and requires an investigation of the circumstances. That being said, here are a few additional things that cast doubt about a date of 1811 on this headstone.

1. The 1881 History of Medina County pretty much lays out the firsts and early dates for the county. It tells of how Joseph Harris, George Burr, Russell Burr, Calvin Corbin, and Lyman Corbin (and families) settled Harrisville in 1811. In Liverpool, it was Justus Warner, Alpheus Warner, and Moses Demming (and families). Given the `trouble’ with the Brits at the time, there was no further settling of the area until 1814. The first permanent settler in Medina Twp. was in late 1814 when Zenas Hamilton and his family settled. The village of Medina was laid out in 1818. These dates aren’t uncrossable boundaries BUT I can tell you that in Medina County’s cemeteries, I can’t think of one instance where they were.

2. More from the 1881 History: The first death in Medina Twp. is given as being a young daughter of Asahel Parmelee in the spring of 1817. Nothing is said about the first burial although that of Isaac Pond in August of 1819 is the earliest mentioned. The death and/or burial of a Revolutionary War veteran would hopefully be recalled. Particularly when compared to that of a child whose family was simply passing through the township at the time and whose burial is not mentioned.

3. The next earliest burial in the cemetery is that of Anne Munson in 1825 – 14 years later. Not an inconceivable gap – especially given that stones could be missing or graves unmarked – but still notable for a cemetery this large. Might Jones have been buried elsewhere originally and moved here later? Possible, yes, but another question is raised: why? When individuals are disinterred and then reinterred in another cemetery, it is almost always done by a family member that has purchased a lot and moves them to be buried with the rest of the family. We see this many times with regards to those disinterred from Old Town and moved to Spring Grove. There are no visible connections to suggest anything like this happened with Frederic Jones.

4. The Jones stone looks like it is made out of white limestone. That type of material was booming for headstones in the 1840’s. Many early stones from the 1820s and 1830s in Medina County are made out of sandstone which was used a lot during those early days. Of course this stone could have been erected in the 1840s so it’s not exactly evidence either way. It doesn’t so much eliminate the 1811 date as it is just another thing that fits the 1844 date.

For the Frederic Jones 1811 to be correct, it would mean that it conflicts with and predates the timeline of Medina Twp., the village of Medina, and Old Town Graveyard. It also makes him the earliest grave in Medina County – an honor known and documented as being Ruth Deming in 1812 in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Liverpool Township.

I believe that the mistake was originated sometime following 1910. Perhaps after misreading the stone as 1811, someone did the math and wondered if the man buried there might have fought in the Revolution. Perhaps they went looking for a military record or, worse, just assumed he fought in the war. The WPA map for the cemetery shows Jones as a veteran and this project was done circa 1940.

THE BOOKS

Several books show Jones in their listings:

The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio, Volume I, pages 205 and 433; Ohio Adjutant’s General’s Office; (F J Heer Printing, Columbus, OH 1929);

Pg. 205
JONES, FREDERICK (Medina, O.)
Br 1751 D 1811 MI: Revolutionary Soldier
Fur. infor. Western Reserve Chap.

Pg. 433 simply has the name `Jones, Frederick’ in a list of veterans


The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Who Lived in the State of Ohio, Volume III, pages 192 and 441; Ohio Adjutant’s General’s Office; (The Painesville Publishing Co, Painesville, OH 1959)

Pg. 192
JONES, FREDERICK – Medina Co.
By Mrs. Harry A. Stebbins, Creston, O.
Roster I, pg. 205
B. 1751, d. 8-20-1811; bur. Episcopalian Cem., Medina, O. – Medina Co.
MI: Revolutionary Soldr. and Pensr. 58th NSDAR Report

Pg. 441 simply has the name `Jones, Frederick’ in a list of veterans


History of North Central Ohio: Embracing Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Medina, Lorain, Huron and Knox Counties, Volume 1; page 144; Duff, William A (Historical Publishing Co, Topeka-Indianpolis, IN, 1931);

Pg. 144 simply lists `Frederick Jones’ in a list of names


Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots, Vol 2, Hatcher, Patricia Law (Pioneer Heritage Press, Dallas, TX, 1987)

THE TRUTH ABOUT THOSE FOUR BOOKS

I have done a bit of research into each of these publications. I began by contacting the NSDAR to see if they could provide any corroborating/source information for the inclusion of Fred Jones in their publication. I received the following response:

Dear Mr. McCann,

I checked the NSDAR’s Genealogical Research System, and though there are three different men by the name of Frederick Jones listed (this means that they are established and recognized by the National Society of the DAR as Revolutionary War soldiers or patriots), there are none listed who died in 1811 or 1844 and are buried in Medina County, Ohio. Of the three, two were born and died in North Carolina, and the other recognized patriot was born and died in Virginia, and all three died before 1809.

The volume that you mentioned–‘The Official Roster of Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio’ was not compiled by the National Society of the DAR, but under the direction of the state of Ohio, –published by direction of Frank D. Henderson, Adjutant General, and John R. Rea, Military Registrar, and compiled by Jane Dowd Dailey, DAR State Chairman of Historic Sites and Revolutionary Soldiers’ graves of Ohio, 1923-1932. Though our library has copies of these volumes, we do not have any records relating to their compilation, as this was not a NSDAR undertaking.

It seems that Ohio DAR chapters collected the information contained in the volumes, in an attempt “to present an authentic and complete list of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in this state,” according to the Foreword, by Jane Dowd Dailey, who also stated the following: “The Roster is not designed as a genealogical reference book, although it may be of service in tracing pioneer ancestry.” You might wish to contact the Ohio Society of the DAR to see if they have any records relating to the compilation of this roster. Here is a link to their website: http://www.ohiodar.org/ . Please note on the left hand side of the screen the option to “contact us.”

I wish you the best in your search for information about the Frederick Jones who is buried in Ohio.

Sincerely,

Genevieve Shishak
Historian
Office of the Historian General
NSDAR

I then contacted the State of Ohio DAR which was the compiler of the first two publications listed. I received a response which included the following:

“Frankly, the publication “Official Roster of Soldiers of the Revolution Buried in Ohio” is worthless. It is not accepted by National Society DAR as a valid source of evidence for service. I don’t know when it was published and I don’t know the requirements for research into the listings of the men included. Personally, I believe that a disclaimer should be pasted into the front cover of every copy of the book still in existence….. Your Fred Jones error is not the only one in the book, I’m afraid. And that’s why the book is not held in high regard.”
Laverne Ingram Piatt
OSDAR State Chairman, Lineage Research
Registrar, Jared Mansfield Chapter, DAR

I contacted Pat Van Hoose who is the head of the James Fowler Chapter (Medina County) DAR and she was unable to find any information to help clear up the matter. Kathy Petras from the Medina Library suggested I contact the Wayne County Chapter since the submitter in one of the volumes is given as a Mrs. Harry Stebbins of Creston, Ohio.

I contacted a P.J. Stebbins online who is the granddaughter of Mrs. Harry Stebbins. She told me that Frederick Jones was not a relative so far as she knew and that she had no idea how/why her grandmother had been linked to the submission of that name.

I then contacted Janet Welty of the Wayne County Chapter DAR and she had no record for a Mrs. Harry Stebbins or any submissions related to Frederick Jones.

So it seems that the first two books – those compiled by the DAR – are compilations from its various state chapters that contain a lot of unsubstantiated material.

The third book on the list – the History of North Central Ohio – simply pulled its list of names from the aforementioned DAR books. It mentions the DAR lists as its source on the very pages where it lists Jones (and others) and offers no additional information. “We are giving the names of as many of these Revolutionary soldiers, buried in North Central Ohio, as we have been able to find and appreciate assistance given in this work by regents of various D. A. R. chapters.”

The last book on the list – the Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots – did the very same thing. We know this because it states it in the book itself:

About Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots
This collection of abstracts of grave sites contains information originally published in the Senate documents of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as the Society magazine.

And also:

Using this book. While all of these reports are available at DAR headquarters, there is little if any information available there to link these references to specific sources of proof, to provide researchers with details as to why a grave was marked or to verify the listing of a located grave as indeed being that of a Revolutionary War patriot. Many listings, particularly the earlier ones, were not substantiated; all information should be independently verified and proved before being submitted to any patriotic or hereditary society for application or other purpose.

So while we have four `separate’ sources which would seem to validate the claims of Frederic Jones being a veteran, we actually have two from the same unsourced compilation whose information was then copied and republished later by two others. Notice how the listings never offer anything more than what came from the misread headstone (i.e. no day or month of birth). There isn’t even a mention of military service details (enlistment, company, rank, etc.).

CONCLUSION

I do not believe the Frederic Jones buried in the Old Town Graveyard was a Revolutionary War veteran. I have provided a number of pieces of evidence or arguments which I believe cast substantial doubt on his being a veteran. Furthermore, the sources that claim he IS a veteran consist of compilation books uncorroborated by any actual evidence.

Even if, for the sake of argument, one contends that the tombstone reads 1811, it doesn’t mean that he was a Revolutionary War veteran. Likewise, the presence of a military record for a man with the name of Fred Jones does not prove any connection with the man buried here in Medina.

I believe that the only reasonable stance on this matter is to assume he ISN’T a veteran until evidence is found to prove otherwise. It is certainly more likely and safer to assume that he is not a veteran – as one would do with any adult male burial in any cemetery. The burden of proof lies with those who want to show that he was a veteran.

The investigation needs to start from the beginning and if a proven connection cannot be made he should not be listed on a veteran roster.

I have no stake in this argument and simply wish to see the truth documented. As it stands today, I would have to list Frederic Jones with the 1844 date and as not being a veteran.

ONE STONE AT A TIME

Cemeteries just don’t get the respect that they deserve. People are often inclined to ask why it is that this occurs. Why is it that the final resting places of our ancestors are treated with such disrespect or are often ignored by society? None of them are good reasons and not a one justifies what is happening with our nation’s cemeteries but here are a few of them and a few counterpoints on how we can change that thinking:

 
ONE STONE AT A TIME
Cemeteries are a whole lot to take care of. Anything larger than a small family cemetery is probably going to have no less than fifty headstones and that can seem overwhelming. If the cemetery is one that has seen decades of neglect and a lot of headstones are damaged then the concept of repairing and restoring it can seem impossible.

As with any large project, you need to approach it from the viewpoint of tackling one thing at a time. If you were to take all of the projects around your house that you need to accomplish and write them down then the list would likely be far too much to take on at once. Add up the costs of those projects and it would likely be more than your bank account could handle. You couldn’t possibly accomplish every one of those tasks at once and you likely couldn’t afford them either.

Cemeteries are much the same. While the overall project of just getting a cemetery back to a status of needing the average day-to-day, year-to-year maintenance is a big one, every project – like every journey – begins with one step. Take it `one stone at a time’ and remember that the condition of the cemetery will only get worse if neglected longer.

Prioritize the things that need to be done and tackle what you can. Repairing and resetting headstones can be more involved while removing tree branches, brush, and garbage is not only cheaper and easier but will have a much bigger impact right away on the appearance of the cemetery.

Identify what headstones are in danger and make sure that those get your attention first. To help manage costs, research all of your options and do what you can afford. If you cannot afford to repair a headstone than simply make sure all of the pieces are collected and out of harms way (mowers). Just make sure to keep the headstone/pieces at the gravesite so you don’t lose track of the actual grave location.

No cemetery was ever cleaned up and restored overnight and any sizable cemetery will take months and even years to get `done’. Once completed, the cemetery will be back to needing only the basics: mowing, weeding, etc.

BATHROOMS
Many communities treat cemeteries like many homeowners treat their bathrooms. You know what I mean: you have to have them but you don’t want to spend too much time or effort taking care of them. Instead of looking at them as a community burden, why not look at them as a community asset?

Any community that is asked to name its assets would likely list something about `parks’ and `history’ among them. Cemeteries are both. They can be another community park; be it one that you can’t play in or bring pets; but one where you can enjoy a picnic, a leisurely walk, read a book, or watch nature. If you want to talk about history then I challenge you to show me a place that is more rich in local history than a cemetery. The people that came before us – the founders, the pioneers – are all buried there. If you want to talk about your community and its history then remember this: they are your history.

How would you feel about someone visiting your home when your bathroom – or another room – was a horrible mess? You might feel embarrassed. When people visit your community do you want them to see cemeteries that look like something out of a horror movie? Much like streets full of potholes, rusty and battered signage, boarded up and vacant buildings, dead or overgrown trees and plants; people notice cemeteries full of broken headstones and high weeds and thorns.

POLITICS
Let’s face it. Since cemeteries are largely misunderstood and ignored by society then elected officials seeking `points’ with their voters aren’t inclined to spend much time on them. There are bigger and more important issues to deal with and, where money is tight, spending it on cemeteries can be looked at as unnecessary or wasteful. Everyone uses roads – most on a daily basis – so when an elected official pledges to fix our roads we easily identify with the issue.

First of all, the most neglected cemeteries are those where people aren’t being buried anymore. Elected officials are more inclined to maintain cemeteries where funeral processions still travel and where loved ones still come to mourn.

Secondly, going back to my earlier point, if the cemetery was maintained regularly then it wouldn’t be as costly. What is more costly: to maintain an existing road every year or to wait twenty years and then fix what’s wrong? The same applied to cemeteries.

DETACHMENT
Odds are that most – if not all – of the people buried in any given cemetery mean nothing to you. They aren’t related to you – even distantly. While this is true, everyone one buried in that cemetery was a person. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, and friends. They were farmers, steelworkers, lawyers, and some were unemployed. They were white, black, and every color that exists in this world. They were no more or less important than you or I. At some point we all die and we will all end up at rest somewhere somehow. If they were your relatives how would you want their final resting place to be?

“But no one that knew them is still living.”

Eventually we all die. And, eventually, everyone that ever knew us will be dead also. All that this means is that the person buried there won’t be having their grave visited by people that knew them personally. Think about your own family. Have you seen pictures or heard stories about family members that you have never met? Do you feel a connection of any kind to those people? Perhaps you look like them or were named after them. Regardless, you are here because of them. The length of the chain doesn’t matter because the links on both ends are still always connected.

“If their family doesn’t care about their grave then why should we?”

This is an assumption made by many people that just isn’t always true. There are graves of people in my family that I care about but have never been to or even found. Some are too far away for me to visit. If your great-grandparents moved across the country a hundred years ago, how easy would it be for you to visit or maintain the graves of those relatives they left back in the cemeteries? Many people don’t know where their relatives are buried and many others don’t have the ability to care for their graves due to the distance. To presume that a neglected grave is no longer important to a family is incorrect. Ask yourself this: how often do you visit and care for ALL of your ancestors’ graves? Given our `mobile society’ those who live in the community must take responsibility for maintaining the cemeteries in that community.

“The bodies are turned to dust by now. There isn’t even a body there anymore.”

Not necessarily true. When the question was recently put to several area funeral homes, they all indicated that graves as old as 150 years would still have skulls and long-bones – at the very least. The rate at which a body decays depends on a number of factors (moisture, climate, animal and insect activity, the coffin (if any), the vault (if any), soil conditions, etc.). Remember that today we are still finding human remains that are many hundreds and even thousands of years old. While it is certainly possible that a body might be mostly or completely decayed, it is more likely that something identifiable is still buried there. For anyone who has had a loved one cremated: are those ashes any less important than a full corpse in a coffin?

THE BATTLE FOR BROWN CEMETERY

IM_A0008

Brown cemetery sits today much as it has for the last seventy-five years. Where a Hinckley township family once laid its members to rest over a hundred years ago one can now see only ruins. Monuments erected on the farm by a grieving family to provide a lasting memorial to their loved ones have been vandalized, stolen, and neglected. Accounts from longtime township residents tell the tale of a private family plot whose stones have gradually disappeared over time; swallowed up by the growing brush, trees, and ravaging hands of time. The cemetery was still visible from the road as recently the 1970’s and even into the 1980’s. Nowadays one has to look a lot harder to find Brown cemetery.

Brown cemetery is a private family cemetery situated on the north side of Bellus Rd.; just west of Ridge Rd. (State Route 94); on the property at 1705 Bellus Rd. in Hinckley Township, Medina County, Ohio. You can’t see the cemetery from the road – even in the winter – but it isn’t far from the cars that drive by it everyday. The cemetery is 0.2 acres in size – not very big – but contains no less than fourteen burials. It contains burials of the Brown, Oviatt, Parker, and Babcock families. The earliest burial documented is that of George Babcock, a son of David and Jerusha Babcock, who died in 1842. Ida E. Brown was the last burial known to be made; that being in August of 1869.

The cemetery is completely surrounded by woods. A large, heavy headstone for Stephen Oviatt bears the mason’s symbol but also lies toppled over with no sign of its foundation. It is in nice condition but only because of its size. The stone for Mary Oviatt is thinner, more fragile, and crumbling. It lays under brush and can’t even be moved without breaking it more. The headstone for a Brown family infant stands with its top broken off. A footstone reading S.M.O. lays under some more brush. A headstone for a teenage girl from the Oviatt family sits alone; separated by a wall of tangled vines. Numerous pieces of headstones – mostly their bases – lay scattered. The spire of an obelisk lays toppled – perhaps the top of the monument for Charles D. Brown and his family which once stood in the cemetery. More headstones and their pieces are here; no doubt concealed by the leaves, brush, and vines that now claim this cemetery as their domain. Given the size of the trees in the cemetery one can easily believe that it hasn’t been maintained in almost a century. While some headstones have been removed by the neighboring property owner (more on that later) no other headstone thefts are definitively known. The Medina County Cemetery Preservation Society (MCCPS) is aware of one headstone that came from the Brown cemetery that is now hiding safely at another Medina County cemetery – how it got there is not clear.

The information about who is buried in Brown cemetery is based on limited documentation collected over the years. The 1897 Medina County Atlas shows the cemetery clearly marked as a `Private Cemetery’. The Ohio Genealogical Society mentions the cemetery in its first edition – compiled in the late 1970’s – and describes it as `not maintained’. When the Medina County Genealogical Society compiled its tombstone inscriptions book back in the early 1980’s, a member of that effort was able to record the information off of the headstones that he could see at the time.

In researching the cemetery for MCCPS, I located the land transaction where the cemetery was exempted from any future sales. In Volume 18, page 172 of the Medina County Deed Record it clearly shows that 32/160 of an acre was deeded by Stephen C. Oviatt and his wife Jerusha to their heirs for use as a cemetery. The deed was dated October 15, 1863 and reads as follows:

Stephen C. Oviatt & wife to David Babcock et al,
Know all men by these presents that we, Stephen C. Oviatt and Jerusha A. Oviatt, wife of said Stephen C. Oviatt of Medina County in the State of Ohio the grantor for the consideration of Fifty Dollars received to our full satisfaction of David Babcock, William Lever (sp?), Luther Parker, Thomas ? Easton, also Stephen C Oviatt, William J. Oviatt, George Oviatt, Samuel W? Oviatt, Sarah S? Newton, Mary A? Witolee (sp?), heirs of Stephen Oviatt deceased, Charles E. Brown, F. Sevill Brown, Addia Brown, heirs of law of Charles D. Brown deceased, do give, grant, bargain, sell, and confirm unto the said grantee, their heirs and assigns the following described premises situated in Hinckley Township, Medina County and State of Ohio to be used as a cemetery and described and bounded as follows is known as part of lot number sixty four beginning on the east line of said lot 64 at the point where the north and south center roads crop the center line of the east and west are so called diagonal road thence running westerly along the center of said road sixteen rods to the southeast corner of the land herein conveyed thence north 10 degrees east seven rods thence north 85 degrees west three rods 7 links thence south 30 degrees west seven rods to the center of said road thence easterly along the center of said road six rods to the place of beginning about thirty two rods of land be the same more or less to have and to hold the above granted and bargained premises with the appurtenances hereunto belonging unto said grantees their heirs and assigns forever and we the said grantees do for ourselves and heirs covenant with the said grantees their heirs and assigns that as and until the ensealing of these presents we are well seized of the premises as a good and indefeasible estate in fee simple and have good right to bargain and sell the same in manner and form as above written and that the same are free from all encumbrances whatsoever except roads and will warrant and defend said premises with the appurtenances to said grantee with their heirs and assigns forever against all lawful claims and demands of all persons whomsoever and I, the said Jerusha A. Oviatt, do hereby remise, release, and forever quit claim unto the said grantee and their heirs all of my right and title of dower in the within described premises. (?unreadable?) whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals the 15th day of October in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred & Sixty Three signed, sealed & acknowledged

Stephen C. Oviatt
Jerusha A. Oviatt

in presence of N.W. Wheadon, Phebe Oviatt

The controversy surrounding Brown cemetery no longer centers around whether anyone cares. Many have expressed a genuine interest in seeing new life breathed into the old cemetery; to see it cleaned up and restored to a place where one can pay their respects to those who are buried there. They wish to see it restored to a community asset – not a shameful secret. The many supporters of this effort have included the Medina County Cemetery Preservation Society, the Hinckley Historical Society, the Hinckley township trustees, the Wayne County Cemetery Preservation Society, members of the Hinckley area and surrounding communities, and – last but not least – descendents of those families buried there. So why does this cemetery still sit in ruins?

Ownership. While the wording of the deed, as expressed above, is clear on the intentions of the families who established the cemetery, somehow along the way the legal system let those intentions slip aside. The cemetery was set aside from any future land transactions in 1863 but, in the sales that followed, the mention of the cemetery gradually disappeared. This first happened in April 1909 when the property was sold to a Halbert Cartwright and makes no mention of the cemetery in the transaction. Those who bought the land around the cemetery, when inspecting their deed, wouldn’t find anything to tell them that the cemetery wasn’t theirs. While the cemetery wasn’t included in the deal – literally or in words – in neglecting to mention it, its fate as a separate land entity was stolen away. Do a check of the Medina County tax map records and you will not find the Brown cemetery anywhere, but it’s there; blurred together as a perceived piece of the surrounding land parcel (Permanent Parcel # 016-03C-10-008). We know what the cemetery parcel that is Brown cemetery looks like. Surveyor Nate Orchard was kind enough to sketch the cemetery boundaries on a tax map – using the description from the deed. It shows a parcel of land that is directly next to the road – with almost one hundred feet of frontage; meaning that no one’s property would have to be crossed to reach the cemetery. But what do you do when the surrounding property owner thinks that the cemetery property belongs to him? Therein lies the problem.

Township resident Bill Horton owns the neighboring property that surrounds the Brown cemetery. He has been a township trustee and served his community as fire chief. His community service ends when it comes to cemeteries. When I contacted Horton in 1998 to inquire about the cemetery, he wasn’t open to anyone coming to the site. While he was willing to answer basic questions about it, Horton made it clear that he felt the cemetery was “just a pile of stones” and “nothing to see”. I asked for even one visit so that I might see for myself; to photograph the site and any headstones for my research. Horton never budged: “No.” So far as known, Horton has only ever allowed two visits in the last 30 years. Ed Brown, a descendent of those buried there, was allowed to visit the site during the 1980’s and was even offered any headstones that he might want to take. Mr. Brown turned down the offer but did take photographs of several stones that Horton had removed from the cemetery and had up by his garage. These photographs – copies of which are in the hands of MCCPS – are now important evidence of headstones that might now be lost forever. Allegedly, Horton still has these headstones somewhere on the property. Why did he remove them? He has claimed he removed them to protect them. In fact, that is one of the reasons he wants the cemetery to remain in its deteriorated condition: a cemetery that isn’t visible and already destroyed can’t attract vandals or visitors.

The other allowed visit was by former Hinckley township sexton and current curator of the Hinckley Historical Society, Sue Batke. She requested permission from Horton in 2002 to visit the site for research purposes and was allowed in. She asked me to accompany her on the visit and we were shocked to find even less there than was recorded back in the early 1980’s. Several headstones copied years ago weren’t to be located but given the site’s condition they could have been right under our feet. The search did yield one additional headstone not previously recorded and a chance to obtain a GPS reading of the site.

A couple of years later, township resident Jackie Brown – another Brown descendent – discovered the sad state of affairs regarding her ancestors’ burial plot and decided to pursue the issue. She retained legal counsel, attorney C. Nevada Johnson, to examine her options and even brought the issue before the Hinckley township trustees at one of their meetings in December of 2004. Brown wanted the cemetery turned over to the township trustees so that it could be cleaned up and cared for in the future. Two of the trustees at the time, Ron Rhodes and Ron Majewski, stated that the township would be willing to maintain the cemetery but that the ownership issue would first need to be resolved. Mr. Horton was a Hinckley township trustee at the time and was certainly surprised when the issue which he had been avoiding was laid out in front of the entire township that evening. He was quoted as saying: “I would never restrict (Brown) or anyone in her family from visiting the graves, but she’s never asked before.” Perhaps, but he also stated that he has never denied access to the cemetery to those who have asked permission to go on his property. I know from experience that this is not true. Horton also stated that he didn’t do anything with the cemetery because he wanted other people to leave it alone. As quoted in the article covering this trustee meeting from the front page of the December 3, 2004 issue of the Gazette: “That’s why I’ve left things the way they are, to keep curiosity-seekers out of it,” What perfect sense that makes: allow a cemetery to fall into disrepair and rot away so that no one will want to come visit it – or bother poor Mr. Horton. Still, nothing has come of the issue as of yet – though not because of any lack of dedication by Jackie Brown.

Mr. Horton has been given every opportunity to come out of this situation in some sort of positive light but he has maintained a hardline against all cemetery restoration efforts. Until a descendent of those buried there – someone with legal standing – can legally rescue their cemetery from Horton’s hands, the cemetery will sit in a state of decay. MCCPS has contacted Mr. Horton to make an attempt to even discuss the matter. He has ignored all communications. While he has stated publicly that he has always allowed family members to visit the site, his `generosity’ needs to be exposed for what it is. Allowing a family member to visit the Brown cemetery today is akin to allowing someone to view the rotting corpse of one of their family members – whose body he won’t release to them for proper burial. There is no honor in Mr. Horton’s actions – or inaction. He has remained uncooperative, unresponsive, and evasive with regards to any mention of this cemetery and has only talked about it when cornered (like at the township trustee meeting).

It doesn’t have to be this way. The folks who want to clean up and restore the Brown cemetery don’t want anything from Mr. Horton. The cemetery belongs to the descendents of those buried there. Mr. Horton’s land wouldn’t have to be crossed or bothered. The cemetery would be cleared of brush and debris. Headstones would be repaired and replanted to mark the graves as they were intended. Maybe a nice fence and a sign could be erected to mark it. Hinckley township trustees have repeatedly stated that they would assume longterm care and maintenance of the cemetery if it can be legally deeded to them. The other three cemeteries that the township maintains – Beach, Maple Hill, and Ridge – are beautifully cared for. Mr. Horton has made himself the villain in this matter despite numerous attempts to allow him to bow out with some salvaged sense of honor. The headstones in his possession could be returned to the cemetery – no questions asked. Still, the Brown cemetery sits and we – those who want to save and restore it – will have to wait……for now.