Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spotlight: Preserving Ohio Cemeteries, One Headstone at a Time

Linda Ellis of northeastern Ohio has been making a difference for Ohio cemeteries for over thirteen years.

It all started back in 1995 when Linda became a member of the Ohio Genealogical Society. At the OGS Annual Conference in April of 1996, Linda was inducted as a new member of the First Families of Ohio. This honor came because her great-great-great grandfather, Harmon Limes, Jr., was a resident of Ohio prior to December 31 of 1820 - in fact, he was the first marshal of North Lewisburg, Ohio. At the Conference, Linda - and her ancestor - received the First Families of Ohio Award and Pin, as well as their membership numbers.

After the Conference, Linda stopped at the small Quaker (Friends) Cemetery where her ancestor is buried. This photograph shows Linda "presenting" her newly acquired certificate to the ancestor she shares it with!

By June of 1997, Linda's pride in her ancestor prompted her to make two decisions: buy him a new headstone, and donate the original stone to the Champaign County Historical Society's museum in Urbana, Ohio.

Linda says, "I had to work at a distance by mail and phone to accomplish both. I ordered the stone locally and worked with a caretaker of the one nearby active cemetery. There was no water on-site at the Quaker (Friends) Cemetery, so the caretaker had to haul in water to pour the footer for the stone."

She continues, "The folks at the museum agreed to acquire the original tombstone. I do not have any children, and I didn't want to take the chance that if I kept the original stone that one day it might end up in a way that I would not want for it. Today, the museum has the stone sitting outside of a mock-up jail. The original stone has been on display for over ten years!"

Soon after Linda replaced her ancestor's headstone, the little Church next to the cemetery closed its doors for the last time. Erected in 1879 and the oldest building in town, its congregation had dwindled to just a few members, and its pastor had moved.

What would happen to the church and its cemetery? Their future was questionable. The church's options were to sell it to a developer or another congregation, donate it to a historical society, or donate it to the village of North Lewisburg.

Linda was afraid that if they sold it to a developer, the cemetery would be obscured by a double-wide mobile home, or worse yet, a neighborhood be built on top of it.

But the church decided to donate the church, the surrounding property, and the cemetery to the Village. And the village leaders had become aware of Linda's seriousness to keep the legacy of the Quaker (Friends) Cemetery alive. The cemetery was in very poor condition at the time - and the village administrator hoped that they could clean it up, locate its boundaries, build a fence around it, and eventually erect a monument there.

It took several years, but Linda's hopes for this little Friends Cemetery have finally been accomplished. The Church has now become a branch of the Champaign County Library. And the Village has taken over the care of the Cemetery, mowing it and installing a fence around it.

The most exciting moment for Linda was on July 29, 2006, when a beautiful Ohio historical marker was placed on the site of the Quaker (Friends) Church and Cemetery.

She says, "Almost a decade of time passed before recognition for this cemetery materialized - but when it did, it was in a way I never could have imagined."

"I would have never dreamt something as meaningful as that beautiful marker would happen to a cemetery that was almost lost and forgotten not that many years before," she says. "Many North Lewisburg and Champaign County residents worked tirelessly to make the plaque become a reality. I can never thank them enough; not only on my own behalf, but on the behalf of all those interred at the cemetery who can no longer speak for themselves. I can only hope that some small contributions from my husband and me aided them in their larger efforts."

The historical marker reads:

Side A : "Friends Church"
Among the earliest settlers to Rush Township were members of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers, who emigrated from the eastern states, mostly Pennsylvania and North Carolina. At first religious services were held in the homes of devout Quakers who in turn built a small-framed meeting house on this site in 1842. The present Friends Church replaced the original structure in the 1870s at a cost of $4,245. Although not a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church supported local ardent Abolitionists who helped runaway slaves reach freedom in Canada. An epidemic during the winter of 1850-1851 reduced the Friends' membership and led to several Quaker families relocating to Iowa. The final religious service was held here on October 26, 1997, after which the church was donated to the village of North Lewisburg.

On the back of the marker are listed the names of prominent citizens of the community who are buried there, including Harmon Limes, Jr., Linda's great-great-great grandfather.

Side B : "Friends Cemetery"
The cemetery of the Quaker Church lies to the west of this building and was used from circa 1846 through circa 1885. It was one of the earliest cemeteries in Champaign County with the first recorded burial being Moses Winder on August 5, 1846, and the last recorded burial on May 18, 1885 of Caroline S. Pim. Among those interred here are Civil War veteran, William W. Fell; the first marshal of Lewisburg, Harmon Limes; and one of the first trustees to serve Lewisburg, Abner Winder Jr. As the church membership dwindled, the upkeep of the cemetery proved difficult and fell into neglect and disrepair. As with the Friends Church, the village of North Lewisburg took over ownership of the cemetery when it was donated in 1997.

Latitude / Longitude
40.13657 ° / -83.33536 ° - Map Marker

141 Winder Street
North Lewisburg, OH 43060
Champaign County

Village of North Lewisburg, Friends of North Lewisburg Branch of Champaign County Library, Champaign County Bicentennial Historical Marker Committee, and The Ohio Historical Society

Linda continues her great work to preserve and protect cemeteries. You can read more about her efforts at her blog, Exploring Almost Forgotten Gravesites in Ohio.

Thanks, Linda, for your hard work for Ohio's cemeteries!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, JoLyn, for spotlighting my story and including a link to my blog. You have pulled all of the events together in perfect order!

    I invite anyone who has knowledge of a cemetery in need of preservation or one in the process of being preserved in the State of Ohio to please contact me so the information can be posted on my blog. Thank you.


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