Small, dedicated group works to preserve pioneer cemeteries

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Remarkable as much for its inconspicuous tranquility as for its incongruity, Cedar Grove Cemetery, a silent affirmation of the life of Isaac Willett and his family – Hancock County, circa 1850 – abides under large, old trees from its day and between the brick and siding of modern two-story ranch houses.

“A lot of times, I drag my grandkids out here,” said Hancock County Cemetery Board President Nancy Leach. “They think it’s fun. My kids say I have an overactive imagination or too much time on my hands.”

Leach is out on a crisp spring morning west of Greenfield showing visitors one of the county’s 92 pioneer cemeteries, sacred plots of land flung throughout the county that are the final resting places of the area’s first residents and their descendents.

In her book, “Hancock County, Indiana Tombstone Inscriptions: One Hundred Years 1833–1933,” Hancock County genealogist Sue Baker notes that many pioneer travelers on their way west decided to make Hancock County home after burying a family member here rather than continue on and leave their loved ones behind.

Over time, family and church plots were developed in what are now dense tree stands, open fields, creek sides, culverts and round tops and housing developments.

For years now, Leach and a small group of historians, preservationists and genealogists – eight of them on a good day – labor to push back time in the “never-ending job” of trying to maintain and preserve the pioneer cemeteries.

To carry the name, the cemetery must have been established before 1850, and as such, the stones and markers are direct, physical links to Hancock County’s past.

Leach has been with the board, established by the county in 2001, for about seven years and now serves as president of the organization charged with finding, recording and restoring those links.

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