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Volunteers Work to Save Pioneer Cemetery
Winchester's Oldest Cemetery home of many of community's earliest settlers
This article originally appeared in the Winchester News-Gazette on Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Bill Richmond, City Editor
A group of area volunteers are working to save White River Cemetery, an irreplaceable portion of the community's earliest history, from being lost to time and the elements.
The cemetery, which stands beside White River Friends Meeting, north of the license bureau building, northeast of Winchester, is the final resting place of many of this area's earliest pioneers. While older sections of the cemetery are unkempt and dilapidated, some of the newer section (which is mostly what is visible in passing on North Middle School Road) is in fairly good condition.
The Friends Meeting recently approved a group of volunteers with a special interest in the cemetery to begin a fundraising and restoration initiative in hopes of saving the cemetery. The White River Friends Cemetery Restoration Committee is comprised of Howard Lee of Westfield, County Historian Dr. Greg Hinshaw, Brian Edwards, and Austin Cox.
Hinshaw said White River cemetery is Winchester's oldest cemetery and includes the graves of many of the community's original settlers. He said the Friends church there was started in 1818, before the city was even platted. The oldest gravestone in the cemetery is dated 1830, but there are other stones in the cemetery that are so weatherworn that they are unreadable.
Winchester pioneers buried at the cemetery include Revolutionary War soldier Thomas Ward and former county commissioner Benjamin Cox, whose gravemarker-made of chiseled fieldstone- marks his year of death as 1847. The most recent burial in the cemetery, which has no more available space, is John Kidder, who passed away in 1999.
Hinshaw said the White River cemetery was on the list of graveyards to be addressed by the County Cemetery Commission about five years ago when the property tax circuit breaker provision limited funding available to the county and the recession began. The county commissioners and county council established the cemetery commission approximately 10 years ago to preserve such regional burial places as part of the county's historical legacy.
"Between the circuit breaker and the recession those two factors, combined, effectively ended the cemetery restoration process in Randolph County," Hinshaw said.
He said White River Friends is the oldest church in the Winchester community.
"There is a lot of history and a lot of charm in this cemetery," Lee said. "For instance, all of the stones are facing the east, awaiting the resurrection."
Hinshaw and Cox said they have been considering this cemetery restoration process for several years and would like to see it started regardless of the availability of money from the county.
"I have a lot of ancestors here," Cox said. "I'd like to get it repaired so it's a more pleasant place for people to pay their respects. It could also be a great source of information for people interested in genealogy or in finding out more about the area and its early history.
"A few months ago, I came out to look at my great-great and great-grandparent's graves. I thought it just looks like it needs help. I asked about the assistance from the county, but they quit four or five years ago and it never happened."
When Cox told Hinshaw about his concerns regarding the cemetery, the two men decided to gather a group of like-minded individuals to try to raise money to restore the cemetery.
"In this genealogy-mad world, there have to be some people interested in preserving this little bit of local history, "Hinshaw said.
"I think there will be some interest. Many of the community's pioneers have their resting place here."
The White River Cemetery Restoration Committee has decided to seek quotes for professional cemetery restoration work and then try to raise enough money to math that quote. While it's difficult to accurately know how much that fundraising target will be, Hinshaw said it very likely could be $20,000 or more.
"We'll do as much of the restoration process as we can with the money we raise," he said. "It would be great if we raise enough money to complete the entire process."
Lee said the accountability for the money contributed to the cause will be done through White River Friends Meeting. Hinshaw said donations to the restoration effort will not be used for the routine annual care of the cemetery (such as mowing) but for the preservation of an important part of the history of pioneer-era Randolph County.
Because of the church's approval of the committee, donations to the cemetery restoration process are tax deductible.
For additional information about the White River Cemetery restoration process, or to contribute to the effort contact Brian Edwards, at (765) 857-2449. Contributions may be mailed to White River Friends Cemetery in care of Brian Edwards at 7660 N. US Highway 27, Ridgeville, 47380. Edwards is clerk of the White River Friends Monthly Meeting.
© 2013 The News-Gazette, used by permission.