NEW PALESTINE — In the back of the New Palestine Cemetery, not too far from Sugar Creek, there is an old wrought-iron gate, which served as the main entrance to the graveyard when it was established in the late 1800s.
For generations, people brought their dearly departed via horse and buggy along Bittner Road and through the opening there en route to their final resting places.
The cemetery has some headstones so old that the elements have worn them down, leaving their inscriptions long illegible.
There are an estimated 1,800 plots still available in the cemetery, but plans for expansion are already underway.
The New Palestine Cemetery Association recently purchased 30 acres of farmland across the street from the current New Palestine Cemetery, 5055 S. County Road 500W, for $525,000. The board purchased the land from farmer William Marlin with money from its endowment fund.
Board members estimate they’ll bury four people per month, or 50 per year, in the future. At that rate, it will take some three decades for the current 17-acre cemetery to fill up. Still, officials went ahead and purchased the land across the road so people can plan ahead for their burial, as many like to do, decades in advance.
Cemetery officials said they wanted to move forward now with the purchase to best serve area residents.
“You can’t wait until the last minute,” cemetery board member Marlon Corwin said.
The location provided the perfect opportunity, added cemetery board president Larry Jonas.
The cemetery association, established in 1908, began saving for a land purchase decades ago.
The association saved money generated from plot sales, estimated at $900 each. After years of investing, cemetery officials were able to accumulate enough money to purchase the property, which should serve the community and surrounding areas for centuries to come, board members said.
While the New Palestine Cemetery was named in the early 1900s, there are some legible headstones dating back to the late 1800s, when it was known as the Murnan Burying Ground. The site also was called Crown Point Cemetery briefly in 1909.
The original cemetery started with 48 plots in the back section of the grounds in the 1870s, said board member Tom Hendryx.
The first documented burials were of twin babies born to Henry Merlau and his wife, Melinda Leachman Merlau, at the Murnan Burying Ground.
Year after year, burial sections were purchased from landowners to add to the cemetery, and the association was created to develop the land as the town grew.
David Canada grew up next to the cemetery and owns land near the site. He has a landscaping business and takes care of the cemetery grounds.
He said the association could not have done a better job of selecting a place for the expansion.
“It’s peaceful out here, and that’s what you want for a resting place,” Canada said.