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Revolutionary war descendants learn to preserve grave stones

Rebecca Galloway Chapter D.A.R. Members Barb Parsons and Debra Hicks clean a marker in the Cozad-Hall pioneer cemetery.
Rebecca Galloway Chapter D.A.R. Members Barb Parsons and Debra Hicks clean a marker in the Cozad-Hall pioneer cemetery.

Many older, local cemeteries are scattered and small - and they often disappear back into nature or fade from memory, unless the descendants have deep roots in the area. These small burial grounds and almost-forgotten cemeteries hold the last connection to our past and offer a space for commemoration.

In Greene County a small group of women have made it their patriotic mission to preserve and renew that past.

The Rebecca Galloway chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution have gathered at Sports street on the edge of Fairborn. The road, which is lined with industrial buildings, is used as a shortcut between two larger thoroughfares - Yellow Springs-Fairborn Road and State Route 235. Midway down Sport’s Street, at the intersection of a dead end road, a handful of old tombstones sit in an unmarked patch of grass next to Woody’s Radiator shop.

“I’ve been (going) by here for fifty-some years and never noticed this cemetery,” Barb Parsons said, looking around the grassy area. Parson’s has been a member of D.A.R. for 50 years. The female only, service-based organization promotes historic preservation, education and patriotism. “I’ve been in D.A.R. since 1971. My ancestors on both sides (were in the) Revolutionary War,” Parson said. “I haven’t done a cemetery before, so, yeah, this is new.”

A D.A.R. member cleans the grave stone of Charlotte Hall Brannum who died March 10, 1860 at the age of 26.
A D.A.R. member cleans the grave stone of Charlotte Hall Brannum who died March 10, 1860 at the age of 26.

Debra Hicks organizes the six members, who distribute cleaning supplies and fill up empty milk jugs with water from a hose that one of the employees at Woody’s Radiator Shop has hooked up to the building for them. Hicks is one of the newer members of D.A.R. and she became interested in learning how to clean tombstones for one of the chapter's projects. “ I have to do a project for my members course,” Hicks said, filling up a water jug. “So I have to come up with something that benefits the community - some sort of service project.”

Hicks said that joining DAR was a good fit for her. “I have always just loved history. I taught American History for years when I was in the classroom. And finding out that I had an ancestry that participated in the Revolutionary War really kind of lit the fire for me. I was like, Wow!”

Armed with a wide variety of brushes, and jugs of water, the women gather around Hick’s for instructions on how to clean the grave markers. The first step is to wet down the stones and then apply the spray bottles D2 Biological Solution, which will eat away those lichens and moss and stuff like that. And then after five minutes or so you can start to move your brush around and see what you can kick off there, and then rinse and repeat.

The women break up into groups, and while the biological chemical does its thing, Marty Riddle - who serves as regent for this chapter and is also a member of the Fairborn Historical Society - looks through a print out from the website Find A Grave. “There should be 18 and now there are 12 monuments left,” Riddle said looking through a sheaf of papers. When I ask her why she picked this cemetery for their project she replies, “It just sits here and looks so sad, and I thought we’ve got to do something.”

Marty Riddle places American flags at the base of the tombstones.
Marty Riddle places American flags at the base of the tombstones.

This unmarked burial site shows up as the Cozad-Hall Cemetery on Google Maps. The earliest burial on record is Mary Mercy Cozad Culter, who died in 1811 at the age of 55. Riddle said that so far she can’t really find any information on the Cozads or the other families buried here like the Halls and the Brannums. “They all came in about the same time. A lot of (the people buried here) came from Virginia, and they came after the Revolutionary War,” she said looking over the weathered grave stones.

As the women scrub years of dirt and debris from the 1800 era grave markers, they call out to each other in excitement.

Parsons: Hey guys, look!

Riddle: Looks beautiful already!

Parsons: Wow! (Laughs)

Riddle said that the group is eager to continue learning how to clean and care for other tombstones in the area and they already have their next project picked out. “There’s a huge area, a lot bigger than this, and it’s called the Cost Cemetery, and they have taken the stones and just piled them around a great big monument. Well that’s the next monument we want to clean.”

As the women get ready to leave for the day, Riddle placed small American flags at the base of each grave-marker. She hopes to find someone to make a sign for this little pioneer cemetery, to commemorate the lives buried here and preserve the history contained in this small patch of grass.

Renee Wilde was part of the 2013 Community Voices class, allowing her to combine a passion for storytelling and love of public radio. She started out as a volunteer at the radio station, creating the weekly WYSO Community Calendar and co-producing Women’s Voices from the Dayton Correctional Institution - winner of the 2017 PRINDI award for best long-form documentary. She also had the top two highest ranked stories on the WYSO website in one year with Why So Curious features. Renee produced WYSO’s series County Lines which takes listeners down back roads and into small towns throughout southwestern Ohio, and created Agraria’s Grounded Hope podcast exploring the past, present and future of agriculture in Ohio through a regenerative lens. Her stories have been featured on NPR, Harvest Public Media and Indiana Public Radio.