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The main goal or project of the Friends of Oak Ridge Cemetery is to restore the older part of the cemetery by cleaning and repairing the graves stones in that area. (Generally, the old part of the cemetery consists of those sections that are designated by numbers, 1-26 and 40, plus Section G. Basically, this is the north half of the cemetery, i.e., north of a line running west from the Knight Chapel parking lot. The newer half of the cemetery is located south of this line, and these sections are designated by letters, A-F and H-K.)
The Friends of Oak Ridge Cemetery has had a number of other projects:
(1) "The Old Burying Ground" project: The village/city of Buchanan has had just two cemeteries over the years. The original village cemetery was a square plot of land, one acre in size, located on the southwest corner of Fourth St. and West St. (now Moccasin Ave.), which was purchased from a Mr. Mitchell in 1844. The first person buried in the cemetery was a child of David Sanford (probably Myron Sanford). The second and third persons buried there were Mrs. Nichols and her infant child. (Mrs. Nichols was the daughter of Edward Ballengee, who had surveyed and laid out the cemetery.)
The village was originally called McCoy's Creek, and its cemetery was presumably referred to as the McCoy's Creek Cemetery, or just the McCoy Cemetery. (Although the village was platted as "Buchanan" in 1842 by John Hamilton, most residents and outsiders continued to refer to the village as McCoy's Creek until 1849 when the railroad established a station at Buchanan. Full acceptance of the new name was apparently not achieved until James Buchanan became President in 1858.) After the area was no longer used as a cemetery, it was called Moccasin Park for a while. It is currently called Kathryn Park, after Kathryn/Katherine ‘Kit' Kingery (1859-1947), who was largely responsible for the area being modified into a children's park in the early 1920's. (See "Another Park Party Saturday" on page 1 of the July 16, 1920, Berrien County Record.) "The fund to procure and develop the playground were also raised by popular subscription."
The Old Burying Ground or McCoy Cemetery was established as a cemetery in 1844, and was in use as such until 1867, when Oak Ridge Cemetery became available. The following paragraph appeared in the June 2, 1881, issue of the Berrien County Record: "The old cemetery at the corner of fourth and West streets, since it has ceased to be used as a burial place, has grown into a perfect jungle of underbrush. Besides this, it has been the custom of those removing the bodies of their friends to Oak Ridge cemetery to leaves the graves open, thus making the cemetery so full of pitfalls that people have to be very careful in going through the grounds lest they fall into them. It appears to us that those having friends buried there should take some interest in the matter and endeavor to make this ‘city of the dead' at least look as if they had not entirely forgotten their friends. A few days work would make a vast difference in the appearance of this cemetery. Who will make the first move towards cleaning it up?"
In 1895, a Circuit Court order was published to vacate the cemetery. A notice in the Berrien County Record (March 1895) asked that "all persons having friends buried in said cemetery and wishing to remove the remains of those buried will please attend to it as soon as the ground is in suitable condition. Otherwise, the village authorities will remove all that can be found of the remains of those buried there." This article also contained "a list of the dead, so far as known," which was apparently based on gravestones remaining at the site. Many people moved the grave stones and remains of their friends and relatives. (It is known that at least a few buried the grave stones instead of moving them.) In 1898, the remaining stones (and presumably any remains) were moved to a hill side in the northwest part of Oak Ridge Cemetery, and they are still at that location today.
In 2006, the Friends of Oak Ridge Cemetery built a sidewalk-style base under these stones, so that they would not migrate further down the hill or subside into the ground (and make the area easier to maintain). We also erected a bronze plaque listing the names of 117 individuals that we know were buried in the original village cemetery. (It is probably that most of the individuals in Oak Ridge Cemetery with a date-of-death before 1867 came from the old village cemetery. However, since some could have come from other cemeteries, including small rural family cemeteries, we only listed those names for which we had some documentation.) This plaque was dedicated on October 1, 2006. Part of the cost of this plaque (and the Potter's Field plaque) was covered by a grant from the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation.
We have a five page summary of information about these 117 people, which includes years of birth and death for most, and location of burial in Oak Ridge Cemetery. For some, there is additional information, such as who their parents were (or other relations). A copy of this summary is in the Local History Room of the Buchanan District Library (or is available from the Friends' newsletter editor).
(2) The Potter's Field project is currently in progress. To date, after researching the available information, we came up with a list of 147 names of those buried in Public Grounds Nos. 1, 2 and 3. (There are more recent graves in Section 8, Lot 5, which might be considered to be part of Potter's Field. However, we did not include these graves because the area is not adjacent and it is still in use for new burials.) The list of "names" includes some that are unnamed infants.
(3) The Front Street entrance sign project: This project was largely completed on Oct. 30, 2008, when the arch was put in place atop the columns. All that remains to be done in 2009 is the addition of 2 plaques; one on the front of each column, and landscaping. This project was completed entirely with donated labor, material and funds.
Our committee consisting of Lyle Sumerix, Bob Bachman and Ron Bennett, was instrumental in initiating and seeing this project to completion. We estimate the value of the project (including donated labor) exceeds $25,000. The funds raised as of Dec. 31, 2008, was abut $6,500 have covered all of the expenses.
Major donors of materials and/or labor for this project were: Robert Bachman, design, J.L. Bailey & R. J. Dougherty, overhead arch, Ron Bennett coordinator, Dave Crumley, stone mason, B. G. Green concrete piers and Ralph McDonald, pier caps. There is a master list of all the donors of funds, material and labor, which will be placed in the cemetery file in the Local History Room of the Buchanan District Library. A total of 77 individuals and three organizations have made monetary donations.
(4) Seminars: In conjunction with the Berrien County Genealogical Society, we sponsored a seminar (September 8,2007), "Pillars of the Past," which dealt with cemetery-related topics: In the morning, State Senator Ron Jelinek spoke about Michigan cemetery laws, and Dick Swem of the Swem Funeral Home, spoke about funeral home records. Oak Ridge Cemetery Sexton/Superintendent Jon Raines talked about the Sexton's records for our cemetery, and Aloma Custer talked about cleaning and repair of grave stones. In the afternoon, Bob Brown spoke about the plans and accomplishments of the Friends of Oak Ridge Cemetery, including some history of the cemetery. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the cemetery where Bob Cooley and Ron Bennett demonstrated various techniques for repairing grave stones.
(1) CIVIL WAR CANNON: Repair the base of the cannon.
(2) GRAVE STONES: Repair or replace graves stones of civil ear veterans in those cases where the current stone is illegible, or in a few cases, where there is no stone. (This project will be done in conjuncton with the local Camp 85 of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War.)