May 15, 2014
URBANA’S OLD GRAVE YARD TO RECEIVE HISTORIC MARKER URBANA, OHIO
A spacious, grassy plot at the northeast corner of the intersection of Ward and Kenton Streets in Urbana has witnessed pick-up ball games, flyers of kites, builders of snowmen, picnickers, youngsters school bound and neighborhood families out for a stroll.
It is doubtful that any of them realized the significance of this little park, established in 1805 as the first burial grounds for the Urbana settlement.
For nearly two centuries, this quiet spot has fulfilled its assignment as a final resting place for pioneer ancestors, but with nary a headstone, a monument, a flag or a flower to tell its story to passersby. That will soon be remedied.
June 7 at 1 p.m., the Champaign County Historical Society (CCHS), in collaboration with the Ohio Historical Society, will unveil a historic marker at the site of what is known as the Old Grave Yard at the corner of Ward and Kenton Streets, once the north and east boundaries of Urbana, explaining the reason for this little clearing in the midst of a residential neighborhood.
In addition to the Champaign County and Ohio Historical Societies, the event is being sponsored by the Walter Smith Funeral Home and the City of Urbana and was organized by the CCHC Historic Marker Committee, Joe Rizzutti, chair, Mark Gaver and Dan Walter.
The text of the marker acknowledges the location as the county’s original burial ground, dedicated in 1805 and in use until 1856, and honors those still interred, one of which is believed to be a young daughter of Simon Kenton.
The reverse side of the marker commemorates the 202nd anniversary of the War Council of 1812, a gathering of local settlers and representatives of the Wyandot and Shawnee tribes held in 1812 about a hundred yards southwest of the Old Grave Yard.
The War Council was called by Ohio Governor Meigs to assure the Native Americans that should General William Hull’s troops, then encamped in Urbana, be deployed to Detroit through tribal lands, the terms of the Treaty of Greenville would be upheld, and to confirm that the Native Americans would stand as our allies against the British.
The June 7 program will include dedicatory remarks by sponsors and project researchers. Some of the Kenton Kin, descendants of Simon Kenton, will be introduced as will members of the Shawnee, Seneca, Mingo and Wyandot Nations. Historic re-enactors in period costume will be on hand and a Native American Drumming Ceremony will be featured.
Following the on-site formalities, the Champaign County Historical Society will host a reception at the Museum.
Rizzutti notes that city records, maps, county histories, biographies and newspaper articles contributed to the information for the marker application, but some of what is told of the property and those buried there is rooted in oral history and is difficult to verify.
Rizzutti adds that it took an act of nature to give impetus to the ongoing investigation and finally secure the Ohio Historical Society’s approval for a historic marker.
While ground-penetrating radar, a technology suggested by Society member Greg Shipley, was being used to search for more graves, the only tree on the burial site, a massive burr oak estimated to be 179 years old, was torn from the ground during a violent storm, bringing to the surface a tangle of roots and human bones, certifying that more graves did, indeed, exist.
One of the burials of record, believed to still be interred in the Old Grave Yard, is that of Elizabeth Kenton, eight-year-old daughter of celebrated pioneer scout Simon Kenton.
Also, some early settlers of the area; unidentified soldiers from the War of 1812; Captain Arthur Thomas and his son who died at the hands of Native Americans, and four children of a Bell family, killed in a tornado, are thought to be still buried there.
Desirous of providing a lasting memento of the marker unveiling and to honor those for whom the Old Grave Yard remains a final resting place, CCHC commissioned woodworker Doug Dill to design and handcraft a limited number of commemorative paperweights of wood salvaged from the uprooted oak, faithful sentinel of the burial grounds for almost 200 years.
Dill said the paperweights will be replicas of 19th century headstones with engraved brass plates bearing the memorial text. They will be sold for $15 each at the marker ceremonies. Paperweights can be reserved by calling the Historical Society Museum, 937-653-6721.
In case of rain, the marker ceremonies will be moved to the Historical Society Museum, 809 East Lawn Avenue.
COMPLETE TEXT OF THE HISTORIC MARKERS
OLD GRAVE YARD
In 1805, a burial ground was dedicated to Champaign County at the intersection of Ward and Kenton Streets, which was then at Urbana’s town limits. It remained open until 1856.
Among those interred there was Elizabeth Kenton, eight-year-old daughter of Simon Kenton.
When she died in 1810, Kenton, the county jailer, was forbidden from crossing out of the town limits due to his unpaid debts. After following the funeral procession as far as he could, he watched Elizabeth’s burial from across the street. Also buried there were unknown soldiers from the War of 1812, Captain Arthur Thomas and son who were killed by Native Americans in August, 1813, four Bell children, who died in the tornado of March 22, 1830, and numerous early settlers of Champaign County. Many, but not all, were reinterred and rest in Oak Dale Cemetery.
WAR COUNCIL OF 1812
To confirm that the Treaty of Greenville would be upheld, Ohio Governor Return J. Meigs called a council with Native Americans June 6-9, 1812. He sought approval to cross native land when marching to Canada and to ensure their alliance with the United States against the British.
Among the tribes and chiefs credited for attending were the Shawnee (Black Hoof, Captain Lewis), Wyandot (Tarhe, Roundhead), Seneca (Civil John), and Mingo. General William Hull, Colonels
MacArthur, Cass and Findley, the Wyandot interpreter Isaac and Simon Kenton are also thought to have attended. Blockhouses were erected along Hull’s Trace for storage and the protection of local settlers. The actual location of the gathering was on the rise about 100 yards southwest of the Old Grave Yard.