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Restoration, repair continues at Pioneer Cemetery

From left, Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association members Galahad Smith, Myralyn Watson, Anne Feathers, Claudia Lewis and Annabel Markle (not pictured: Charles Newton) pose in front of some of the historic cemetery’s older monuments during a recent visit to the cemetery. The group is looking ahead to more fund raising and grant writing to allow them to continue their repair and restoration work.

From left, Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association members Galahad Smith, Myralyn Watson, Anne Feathers, Claudia Lewis and Annabel Markle (not pictured: Charles Newton) pose in front of some of the historic cemetery’s older monuments during a recent visit to the cemetery. The group is looking ahead to more fund raising and grant writing to allow them to continue their repair and restoration work.

Once an overgrown and downright eerie place with grime-coated obelisks and time-ravaged tombstones about to tumble over, the final resting place of some of the community’s earliest citizens continues to undergo a large-scale repair and restoration project begun almost a decade ago.

On Wednesday, members and friends of the Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Association (PCPA) gathered at the historic Park Street site to see for themselves some of the completed projects from 2016, and to get an update on additional work planned for 2017.

The PCPA, with a steering committee comprised of members of the Father Ryan Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was formed in March of 2008. Their goal: to reclaim the long-neglected cemetery grounds and clean, restore and repair grave sites as needed.  Volunteers used plenty of elbow grease during a number of work sessions held at the cemetery. Workshops led by experts taught local committee members the types of DIY repairs they could undertake, while funds raised helped pay for stone masons and other professionals needed for the project.

More recently, allocations from the City of Greenville have helped fund the restoration and repair of a number of the cemetery’s time-worn and damaged graves. The PCPA has been able to replace the increasingly dilapidated wrought iron fencing surrounding the cemetery.

As the PCPA’s Claudia Lewis explained, some of the previously unmarked graves in Pioneer now have new headstones in a classic design befitting the historic site, with “Unknown” chiseled into each stone.

There is the possibility many more of those laid to rest in Pioneer are   also without a name.

“If you look around, you will notice spots in the cemetery where there are larger rocks, and we believe that are probably graves where those are located,” said Lewis. She waved her hand in the direction of the back portion of what is known as the cemetery’s Section C, a large, mostly empty area with only a handful of old graves along the fence.

“It’s believed that once there were graves all across this space . . . their identities, however, are unknown.”

According to the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society’s cemetery index, there are close to 100 individuals who are believed to be buried in unmarked graves at Pioneer, including several Civil War soldiers.

“Some even say that an Indian chief and his wife are buried here somewhere—although that might only be a legend,” said Lewis with a shrug. “Who can say?”

There are 19 Pioneer Cemetery graves scheduled for attention in 2017, with a number of foundation repairs slated. Grave cover repairs and the completion of the rebuilding of another grave cover, using old brick, are also on the agenda. Several graves simply need a thorough cleaning, committee members said.

There are approximately 250 marked graves in Pioneer Cemetery, dating from the early 19th century to the last person to be interred there in the early 1960s. The earliest birth dates found go all the way back to the latter part of the 18th century—nearly 225 years.

“The preservation of this cemetery is so important as part of our community’s heritage. Visiting here is such a great history lesson for our local schoolchildren,”said Anne Feathers of the PCPA.

“We are looking ahead to doing more fund raising and some grant writing to help us complete this large-scale project in the coming years, as well as to be able to maintain what we have already accomplished here.”