Benedict leads ‘virtual’ stroll through Culver area cemeteries

In her introduction of speaker John Benedict, at the August 17 meeting of the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver, AHS member Sherrill Fujimurra, part of the AHS' events committee -- said she'd long hoped to revive a "wonderful presentation" given in 1994 by the late Opal Benedict on the cemeteries of Union Township.

"I can still hear her beautiful voice," said Fujimurra, who added Opal's son, John, "didn't even hesitate" when she asked him to resurrect the presentation.

John Benedict, himself the descendent of generations of those occupying various Union Township cemeteries, peppered his program with photographs projected onto the large screen at the Culver Public Library, where the program took place.

The program included a quote from Edwin Corwin's 1930s "One Township's Yesterdays" book, on the graves of local pioneers, "those warriors of old who defied and conquered the wilderness.

"May the pioneer cemeteries in which they lie buried, remain forever sacred to the memory of those first settlers who carved from the wilderness a land of peace and plenty (and) never fall into decay," Benedict read.

Union Township, at about seven miles wide and eight miles from north to south, includes seven cemeteries, noted Benedict, who also pointed out they form a kind of circle around Lake Maxinkuckee. His mother's program, he said, included a cemetery in Starke County, west of the Burr Oak cemetery, since many early Union Township residents are buried there.

The main repository of technical operating data regarding township cemeteries resides with the township trustee, and Union Township supports all seven cemeteries in some way, even though some -- such as Culver's Masonic and nearby Zion cemeteries -- are partially private.
As of 2010, around $20,000 of township funds went into cemeteries for maintenance, repair, or general expenses, with the largest expenses being mowing. Benedict noted today many residents take it for granted that local cemeteries "look pretty good, but that was not always the case." Instead, he said, "many years ago they had fallen into disrepair."

In 1993, it was mandated by the state of Indiana that township trustees would provide $1,000 towards funeral and burial expenses for the "truly indigent," though since then funds have been cut to $900; this is primarily applied to cremation, with provision that a cemetery plot be provided, though not of the family's choosing.

"That spot is basically free," he said, adding with a smile, "but being a good Republican, I know it's paid for by tax dollars!"
Former township trustee Marlene Mahler, in the audience, said indigent funds were utilized about five times in her 12 years at the job.
Interestingly, Benedict also noted Union Township cemeteries have very little vandalism today.

Four of the seven cemeteries here are considered pioneer cemeteries, he explained, though he conceded he could find no formal definition of what constitutes a pioneer cemetery. Most were likely family plots prior to becoming cemeteries proper.

The Lakeville Lions Club, within the past year, erected signs at all Marshall County cemeteries, so each now has a uniform, blue marker indicating name and date of establishment.

Bucklew Cemetery

Bucklew Cemetery, on Quince Road, was established in 1837, which Benedict said raised the question of criteria for date of establishment of a cemetery. Most dates, he said, correspond to the date of the first burial, and many weren't declared cemeteries proper for decades.

Bucklew, also known as the Bucklew-McDonald Cemetery (most McDonald tombstones include a weeping willow on the stone), is officially a closed cemetery, meaning all plots are used. However, if someone today is the title holder to a plot, they may still be buried there.

"I believe the last person there swapped some land for a driveway, for a plot," said Benedict.

Noting there are Civil War veterans' tombstones at Bucklew, Benedict recalled speaking to some elderly gentlemen at church who remembered speaking to Civil War veterans in their younger years.

"So the people who fought in the Civil War would conceivably know people who fought in the Revolutionary War."

At least one grave at Bucklew belongs to a veteran of the War of 1812, he said, also pointing out a great many women there died in their upper teens or early 20s, and some have second and third wives buried next to them.

"Being a wife was hazardous in pioneer days," he says.

Poplar Grove Cemetery

Established in 1893, though with its first burial much earlier, Poplar Grove Cemetery, adjacent to the United Methodist Church of the same name on State Road 10 east of Culver, includes 1,003 burials. The cemetery, said Benedict, is actually in three parts: the old Poplar Grove, which he said probably predates the church, an old Union Township cemetery unrelated to the church (the portion right along the highway), and an International Order of Oddd Fellows cemetery. The Maxinkuckee chapter of that organization maintains the entire cemetery, he added, though the township contributes financially.

Benedict referenced a May, 1883 article listing the five trustees responsible for the newly-established township cemeterey, adding the Odd Fellows lodge took it over ten years later.

The headstones at Poplar Grove date from the mid-1850s to the present, and there are four Civil War veterans buried there, he said. It's also the only cemetery in the township which lies beside a still-existent church. Benedict noted he has family members, dating back to his great grandparents, buried there.

The tallest monument among many ornately carved stones at Poplar Grove belongs to a member of the Thornburg family, and perhaps the most prominent artistic attraction in the cemetery is a headstone carved as a tree. Benedict pointed out it's rare today to see artistically carved stones depicting books or lambs, as were more common in the past.

John Norris, a veteran of the war of 1812 who died in 1847, is buried at the cemetery, as is Leonard Wilson, for whom the well-known ditch which winds through Culver Academies' bird sanctuary and Woodcraft Camp, is named.

Audience member Mimi Miller said the grave of her grandfather, a Civil War veteran, is decorated with an American Flag each year. Mahler explained $350 in tax money is alotted annually to the VFW and Odd Fellows for purchase of the flags, which are then placed by those organizations on veterans' graves.

Washington Cemetery

Also known as the Washington-Lawson Cemetery, Benedict noted the cemetery on State Road 117 near Mystic Hills golf course is home to 274 graves.

The call went out, he said, on Feb. 1, 1898 for a cemetery association meeting in the Washington Schoolhouse, when trustees were established. Many headstones at the cemetery date back to the 1850s.

The cemetery served the "Washington neighborhood" of the Queen Road and surrounding areas, and includes a number of members of the Kline and Bigley families, in addition to well-known Culver pharmacist for 35 years Steffen Rector.

Zion Cemetery

Established in 1850, Zion Cemetery on Upas Road includes 343 gravesites, Benedict explained, and is adjacent to land long associated with the Newman family, in an area known as the Zion neighborhood.

The cemetery was immediately north of the Zion church, built in 1872 (and now no longer standing); the old Kaley schoolhouse was once located directly across the road. Today the cemetery includes a "little park with a memorial for Zion Church," and the cemetery is considered a pioneer cemetery. Though it has been formally turned over to the township, a Zion board maintains it, with financial contributions from the township for upkeep.

A graveyard committee was established in 1893, Benedict said, to beautify the space and plat the ground and sell lots. A portion was set aside then for burial of those unable to defray burial costs. A number of the well-known Stahl family are buried there, and many graves date back to the late 1800s.

Cromley Cemetery

Perhaps the least-known cemetery in the township is the small Cromley Cemetery, established in 1844 and containing 51 graves. Benedict acknowledged Cromely is "hard to find," and sits on an acre "surrounded completely by trees," on old Union Road, a dirt lane, now closed, off what is commonly known as "the Monterey Road" (which runs east off State Road 17 from State Road 110).

"A lot of these cemeteries in the early to mid-1900s were really neglected," Benedict said, adding his father, township trustee in 1960, hired his grandfather to mow the cemetery, which "hadn't been maintained in years."

At one time, he said, a great many of the gravestones in Cromley were broken off, though many have since been reset. He said it had been suggested some of the stones might not sit on their assigned graves, since so many had been broken off and placed in a pile.

"I guess an awful lot of kids in the 1950s and `60s parked there,: he said. "You could sure scare your date!"

There are graves in the cemetery from the 1850s, the latest from 1872, though since then Lois Kelso, a former township trustee herself, requested a burial space there. Although the cemetery is officially closed, Kelso was able to be buried there at her death in 2006, he noted.

Burr Oak Cemetery

Often referred to as the Burr Oak-Voreis Cemetery, this graveyard on 14B Road includes 749 burials of which four are Civil War veterans, said Benedict. The four sections to the east are the oldest portions. On Jan. 28, 1896, John Voreis deeded the land to the cemetery, which once had a trust but is now entirely maintained by the township. A pioneer cemetery, the oldest portion of the Burr Oak cemetery "has been closed for a long time," Benedict explained.
Its oldest recorded headstone dates to 1834.

Culver Masonic Cemetery

The old township portion of the only cemetery located within the town of Culver proper, was established in 1859, having been deeded in 1849 by George and Margaret Fall. The first 10 rows off South Main Street constitute the old township portion. The oldest recorded grave in the Culver Masonic cemetery, which includes 2,588 burials to date, is that of Benjamin Street from 1859.

Benedict said his mother, in her original presentation, recalled knowing the cemetery as "the Easterday graveyard." In 1880, Opal Benedict's grandfather, Benjamin Easterday, came from Ohio and purchased a 118-acre farm immediately south of the present cemetery, Opal had written. With the exception of the old township corner, the longstanding portions of the Masonic cemetery sit on former Easterday farmland.

In 1907, Easterday sold the farm to Susan Postlewaite, an unmarried woman from Starke County.

Benedict quoted a Sept., 1919 Culver Citizen article noting Union Township had taken over ownership of the Culver cemetery, disposing of "a problem under discussion for several years....we may expect considerable improvement in the cemetery, which has been object of reproach in the community."

"It sounds like some of my ancestors were slackers," Benedict quipped, referring to the apparently poor condition of Culver's cemetery at that time.

In 1929, Postelwaite deeded the land east of the old township cemetery she had purchased in 1907, to Culver's Henry H. Culver Masonic Lodge, who eight years later added five more acres to the cemetery, which they had purchased from Robert Gnasch.

In 1958, the lodge sold five burial spaces to serve as the Eugene C. Eppley memorial, one of the most visually prominent aspects of the cemetery today. Benedict discussed some other aspects of the cemetery, including the heart-shaped tombstone created by late Culver fire chief Dave Burns, a well known stone mason, and the existence -- pointed out by audience member Rosalie Bonine -- of a veteran's memorial area at the southeast corner of the cemetery.

Bendict concluded his program with a brief description of some of the websites containing information about Union Township cemeteries, including Find-a-Grave and the website of the Fulton County Public Library, where the late Judge Tombuagh has generated extensive information about those and other cemeteries.