ALTERNATE NAMES: Dunkard Church, Rice Dam, German Baptist Church, Dunkard, German Reformed
LOCATION: south side of Old Mill Rd. (TR-68); west of Rice Rd. (TR-154); on the west side of the church
CURRENT OWNER: Black River Church of the Brethren
ACCESS: public – use old parking area in front of cemetery
SIZE: about ¾ of an acre
ESTIMATED NUMBER OF BURIALS: 200+
EARLIEST KNOWN BURIAL: February 15, 1857 – Aron Browand
MOST RECENT KNOWN BURIAL: still active
GPS: N 41° 05’ 08.1”; W 082° 03’ 46.5”
PERMANENT PARCEL #: 004-09C-20-014 (cemetery is only part of larger parcel)
(Medina County Engineer’s Overhead View)
ORIGINAL LOT#: Tract 9, lots 4 & 5
TOWNSHIP, RANGE: T2N: R16W
VETERANS BURIED IN BLACK RIVER CHURCH CEMETERY:
Billman, Kermit C. World War II Lot 44
Bowman, Dean H. World War I Lot 48
Culp, Samuel G. Civil War Lot 47
Fisher, John Civil War Lot 48
Harmon, Jerry Henry Jr. Korea Lot 4
Heestand, Stanley K. World War II Lot 5 (Cenotaph; he is actually buried in France.)
Heestand, Wilbur D. Korea Lot 5
The history of the German Baptish church (also referred to as Dunkards) in Chatham Township began with the arrival of ministers Samuel Garver and Joseph Rittenhouse in 1849. Having come from a Dunkard settlement near Germantown, Pennsylvania, they were followed by other families that came and settled near them. Meetings were held in private houses and barns for a number of years as no church building had yet been constructed. The sites of these meetings were shared by the members who also lived in the neighboring townships including Homer and Spencer. (1881 History of Medina County, pg. 664)
Burials of the church members were also shared by the churchyards. The first known burials in this cemetery were made in February of 1857. These interments – both of young children – were made on the land of one of the original ministers of this congregation, Joseph Rittenhouse. In all, about a dozen burials were made here before the formal deeding of any land to the church. These include members of the Browand, Bollinger, Rittenhouse, England, Woods, and Hartel families.
On June 27, 1868 the cemetery land and site of the first church was formally deeded by Joseph & Catharine Rittenhouse to the Trustees of the German Baptist Church (John Pittenger, John White, and William Shoemaker) for the sum of fifty dollars. The transaction for this parcel – located in Tract 9, Lot 4 – was recorded in Volume 25, page 302 of the Medina County Land Records:
“….being in the northwest corner of one hundred and twelve acres of land conveyed by Daniel Richards to said Joseph Rittenhouse by deed valid April 17th 1856 in commencing at the northwest corner of said 112 acres; thence south 13 rods; thence east six rods (6); thence north five rods (5); thence east two rods (2) & ten links (10); thence north eight rods; thence west eight rods & ten links to the place of beginning containing ninety-four rods of land (94 rods).”
This oldest part of the cemetery was about a third of an acre and laid out in seven rows of lots. Given that no original records exist for this area of the cemetery, we can only guess on the details of its composition. It was split into two parts – north and south – which are separated by a lane. By examining the headstone groupings, each row in the north half looks like it was made up of three burial lots. These lots are about ten feet long by twelve feet wide with probably four gravesites. The headstone groupings in the south half look as though each row was made up of four burial lots. The south end is also slightly longer than the north part. Each of these lots is also about ten feet long by twelve feet wide with probably four gravesites. These measurements are approximations and do not allow for any walkways that might have existed between the rows.
“The Dunkard Society of Brethren commenced public worship in the township, after the large meeting-house erected by them in the spring of 1871, on the farm of Tobias Hoover, near the banks of Black River, had been completed. Rev. Joseph Rittenhouse and Samuel Garver are the officiating ministers of this and the adjoining Homer Church, of this denomination. The meetings alternate in these two churches from Sunday to Sunday.” – 1881 History of Medina County (pg. 578)
An expansion to the south end of the cemetery was made possible with the purchase of a 0.22 acre strip of land from Henry & Lizzie Kilmer. Also a part of Tract 9, Lot 4, it was sold to the Trustees of the Church of the Brethren for one dollar on August 11, 1915 and recorded in Volume 100, page 319 of the Medina County Land Records:
“..beginning at the southeast corner of land now owned by the German Baptist Church; thence south forty feet; thence west parallel with the south line of land now owned by the said German Baptist Church to the east line of land owned by Clem Rice; thence north on the east line of said Clem Rice’s land to the southwest corner of land now owned by the said German Baptist Church; and thence east on the south line of land owned by the said German Baptist Church to the place of beginning.”
Shortly thereafter, another parcel of land was sold by Clement S. Rice, Emma Rice, Hannah Rice Betz, Chauncey Betz, and Dorothy Rice to The Trustees of the Church of the Brethren (Henry Kilmer, John Garver, and Isaac Meyers) for the sum of two hundred dollars. This piece of land – located in Tract 9, Lot 5 – was on the west side of the existing cemetery. The transaction took place on July 8, 1920 and was recorded in Volume 100, page 320 of the Medina County Land Records:
“Beginning at the northeast corner of Lot 5 in center of the public highway; thence west 4 rods to a point on the north line of said lot; thence south 254.5 feet to a point, directly west of the southwest corner of a 40-ft. strip of land deeded to the grantees herein by Henry Kilmer; thence east 4 rods to the S.W. corner of said parcel of land; thence N. 254.5 feet along the east line of Lot 5 to the place of beginning and containing within said boundaries 0.38 of an acre of land. The Trustees of the Church of the Brethren (formerly called The German Baptist Church) or their successors hereby agree to build and maintain a fence on the line.”
These expansions to the cemetery were laid out differently from each other. On the south end, five rows of two lots each were added. These lots did not line up with the existing lot rows of the old cemetery. Each lot was about eight feet long and sixteen feet wide and probably setup for four gravesites. Between each row of lots was a walkway.
The western addition was laid out as three rows of burials lots. The lots of the westernmost row were about ten feet long by about sixteen feet wide and probably setup for four gravesites. The other two rows were laid out with larger lots of about sixteen feet long and sixteen feet wide. These larger lots were likely setup for eight gravesites – laid out in two rows of four graves. Between each of these rows was a walkway. The center lane dividing the old cemetery was extended through this addition also.
It is not known whether any lot numbering system had been used prior to these additions but, if there was, those records were likely lost. Sometime after the additions we see that the lots were numbered beginning with the lot in the northwest corner and running south in each row. The same pattern continues as you move row by row eastward although the new additions were numbered first before doing the same with the old cemetery.
THE CEMETERY TODAY
While the church continues to operate today, the cemetery itself has mostly ceased to be used. Any original cemetery records were lost years ago and only the occasional burial has been permitted on known family lots.
An unused area in the southeast corner of the cemetery that was not plotted has been used for a few recent interments. This area is referred to – unofficially – as Lot 61 in the burial listings here.
The burial listings were recreated using the remaining headstones, some obituaries and death records, along with the WPA map.
On Christmas Eve night of 2006, a fire completely destroyed the church. The church was rebuilt the following year – just down the road to the east – and rededicated on July 20, 2008.
The church has added additional land holdings over the years and now owns a total of 14.83 acres.