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Reflections On The Past, Present And Future Of Pleasant Grove Cemetery

If you’ve ever traveled the rural stretch of W. Hyde Rd. that runs between Fairborn and Yellow Springs in Miami Township, you may have noticed a little corner cemetery.

A small number of tombstones serve as a reminder of the people laid to rest there. But many of the grave markers are broken, unreadable because of their age, and some are just gone; leaving no visible trace of the people buried there.

For years, I’ve driven past this tiny cemetery and wondered about its history.

I found out that the cemetery belongs to a small nearby church. Pleasant Grove Missionary Church sits just across the road.

Brian Graham is the Pastor there. He tells me a line of trees that had served as a fence-line between the cemetery and the farmland next to it had to be removed because of the damage their roots were doing to the graves.

"Obviously just with the age of the cemetery, the weathering, a lot of the headstones, unfortunately, are unreadable. So we're looking into ways that we might be able to preserve these stones and maybe recover some of the inscriptions on the stones. But, yeah, the earliest grave that we have been able to find is 1854. That's the earliest known grave, and the last one, 1916 was the last person buried here."

Graham says the cemetery has a much longer history than the church he currently presides over. Inside the Pleasant Grove’s meeting hall, he shows me some of that history collected in scrapbooks.

“Most of the books here are just photos of events the church has been involved in throughout the years in Yellow Springs," he says. He shows me others filled with, "the earliest pictures dating back to when the church first started."

Time has steadily changed the church and its congregation. Graham says he doesn’t believe any current members are related to the people buried in Pleasant Grove.

To try and find out more about who they were, I called the Green County Historical Society looking for answers. Executive Director Catherine Wilson said she had them.

THE PAST REDISCOVERED......

"It's a neat little cemetery," she says. "It's got a lot of interesting stones in it. There are a couple of people whose fathers were in the War of 1812, and a couple of civil war veterans, people that died fairly early in their lives.”

People like Lorenus Willison, a soldier who served in the American Civil War.,

"They lived in Iowa, for heaven's sake, in the 1860 census. How did he get back here to serve from a Green County regiment? Well, I found out that his brother married here. He probably lived with his brother who had married a girl in 1860, so I just get into their lives. I can't help but be interested in them."

Willison served with Company E, of the 94th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. It was organized with men from Greene, Clark, Allen, Miami, and Darke counties.

Broadsides, or recruitment posters from that era, implored able-bodied men to “Come one, come all, our country needs us.” And so the 94th infantry fought for the Union Army in battles that included the Siege of Atlanta, Jonesboro, and the occupation of Raleigh.

But those are battles Lorenus Willison never saw. Records indicate that after joining the infantry in August of 1862, he died in late February, 1863, just 6 months later in Byron, Ohio, in what’s still a small community less than two miles from his gravesite.

The last battle Willison may have fought in was The Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in January of 1863. By all accounts, a devastating battle for both sides of the war.

It’s not hard to imagine that, after a long journey home to Byron, the young Willison succumbed to his injuries — or died of disease like so many others.

That information may be lost to time, the same fate that possibly looms for Willison’s gravesite in Pleasant Grove.

The veteran's headstone has been broken off from its base and stuck back in the ground just behind it. But even that is sinking back into the ground. It looks like it’s falling forward.

The tombstone is rough to the touch and there’s a veterans marker placed next to it. It’s nice to see that someone has remembered him in this way.

Many of the remaining headstones in Pleasant Grove are in the same condition, or worse. A 1966 survey of Pleasant Grove, provided by the historical society, shows some headstones were already missing.

That was 55 years ago and time’s slow and steady march has continued to take its toll on this little cemetery.

THE FUTURE OF PLEASANT GROVE......

But there’s still time to save Willison’s marker. And the damaged or missing stones of others who are buried here could be replaced.

It’s a big commitment, says Misti Spillman. She’s operated her business Reviving Cemeteries for about ten years. Spillman says there are many small, endangered cemeteries just like Pleasant Grove.

"A lot of the rural ones are kind of left to their own devices so a big part of the cemeteries I focus on are out in the rural areas because it seems like they need the most care and upkeep to get them back to where they once were," she says.

Looking around, Spillman notes the religious significance in the design of some of the gravestones that are still standing here, and we both struggle to read the engravings on the older ones.

One reads, “Beneath our feet and over our head is equal warning given. Beneath us lie the countless dead, above us is the heaven."

"That kind of breaks my heart in a way," Spillman says, "when you see these old cemeteries that just need all this help. But there's just a lot of valuable information you can find out from a grave.

I always tell people to look at cemeteries, especially the older ones, as outside museums, because they're the pioneers that came in and started the area. But also, it's a way to really honor the dead, to preserve their gravestones and for them not to be forgotten.”

To not be forgotten. It can feel like a tall order in such a fast moving and technological age where many of the living already feel isolated, or left behind.