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December 7, 2019

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Dick Boehr's vision: Shannon Cemetery becomes a village park

Dick Boehr was concerned that many of the gravestones in Bluffton’s oldest cemetery were no longer standing and he wanted to do something about it.

Along with Fred Rodabaugh, Boehr proposed to improve the old Shannon Cemetery along Jefferson Street near Riley Creek. The improvement will change the cemetery to the Shannon Cemetery Park.

“With the help of the Boy Scouts, Bluffton American Legion Post and village council, we hope to convert the cemetery, which is in disrepair, into an appealing entry to Bluffton,” he said.

In September Bluffton council gave approval to improve the cemetery, which is owned by the village. Boehr is now asking the community to assist in the project.

“We are looking to residents, organizations, community groups and businesses to consider assisting in this project,” he said. “We also seek support from families whose heirs are buried in the cemetery.”

Neal Hauenstein, landscape architect, created a rendering of how the park might evolve. His drawing is part of this story.

Several areas have potential of being developed on the property. Those include:
• a gazebo
• concrete pad where the gravestones that still exist would be displayed
• a rain garden
• a flagpole
• a stone trail
• an area where contributors to the project would be recognized.

History of the cemetery
What is today the Village of Bluffton formed shortly after the Northwest Territory was opened to European settlers. The unincorporated village of Shannon started in the mid-1830s along Riley Creek near what is today Main and Riley.

A cemetery was opened on what is today Jefferson Street. Shannon’ and Bluffton’s founding father, Joseph Deford, is buried in the cemetery. His original gravestone was replaced and a newer stone and now carries his name.

“We don’t really know in which cemetery lot he was buried,” said Boehr.

According to a 1937 Bluffton News article, the oldest standing gravestone was of Tabitha Bryan who died in 1839. The final person to be buried there was Martha Goble Fitzgerald in 1873. The Goble family was one of the first to settle in Shannon.

 

The Maple Grove Cemetery was opened in the 1870s when the Shannon Cemetery closed.

The 1937 News story stated that 125 markers were standing when the article was published. In 2013 only 45 stones remained.

According to Boehr, some of the stones were taken away, others were dumped along the creek bank and some simply fell apart.

The cemetery covers approximately .905 acres. Some of the property is in the creek. And, when State Route 103 was created approximately 19 graves were uncovered and moved. State Route 103 (Jefferson Street) now travels over part of the original cemetery.

Boehr said that he has probed the creek bank. He uncovered some gravestones about 12 to 14 inches deep that were covered by the state highway.

“Over the past three years there’s been a lot of research about those buried in the cemetery. We’ve notified families who have ancestors buried there,” he said. “We’ve received many marvelous letters and correspondence from persons with families connected to the cemetery.”

He said a final list of certified information listing persons buried in the cemetery will be posted on a plaque in the park. All remaining gravestones will be placed on a concrete pad in the park. Boehr said that he hopes that the remaining stones will be moved this fall when grading of the land and tree removal begins.

How to become involved
Persons and group interested in financially supporting the project may contact Boehr at 111 Vine St., Bluffton. Donations may be written to the Village of Bluffton with a memo directing funds to the Shannon Cemetery Project. All donations are tax deductible.