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An effort to preserve one of Ohio’s oldest cemeteries

An old black and white photo shows Mound Cemetery. A handful of headstones lie at the base of a mound.
Washington County Historical Society Facebook
The Mound Cemetery in Marietta is home to an ancient Adena burial mound. It's also where some of Ohio's earliest European settlers were buried.

The Mound Cemetery in Marietta, on the eastern edge of Ohio, is home to an ancient Adena burial mound. The indigenous people lived in Ohio more than 2,000 years ago.

The site is also where some of Ohio’s earliest European settlers are buried.

Some of the gravestones there are so old, they’re becoming unreadable, so the Washington County Historical Society is on a mission to replace them and to locate unmarked graves.

It’s using nearly $50,000 in COVID relief funds to employ ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetic technology to get a more complete idea of what’s buried beneath the cemetery’s surface.

"A lot of the people who came here were Revolutionary War veterans. They deserve to be remembered.”
Mike Ryan

History of the Mound Cemetery

When European settlers started arriving in Marietta in the 1780s, they encountered a landscape scattered with ancient burial mounds.

The Ohio Company of Associates, which established Marietta as the first settlement in the Northwest Territory in 1788, made arrangements for those mounds to be surveyed.

Years later, in 1801, they officially established a cemetery around one.

Now known as the Mound Cemetery, some historians claim it’s home to more high-ranking Revolutionary War soldiers than any other cemetery in the country.

“That would be mostly because that's who came to settle Marietta,” said Mike Ryan, a member of the Washington County Historical Society. “[Marietta’s founder] Rufus Putnam was a general, and most of the men he knew were high ranking officers, so an awful lot of them came to this area.”

But the gravestones for some of those early settlers are aging, and the information on them is becoming harder and harder to depict.

The local historical society is on a mission to preserve the historical records by replacing some of the stones.

“We're not trying to replicate the old ones. We're just going with names and year of birth and year of death,” Ryan said. “But the idea is to record these and get stones placed before they are lost due to erosion and time.”

Last year, it placed about 25 new headstones alongside the originals.

A headstone reads Hannah Crawford, 1813-1847. It lies at the foot of an older, decaying headstone.
Washington County Historical Society Facebook
The Washington County Historical Society is placing new headstones alongside some of the originals to preserve information about the area's early settlers.

Ryan said many were for children, who likely died of cholera. One stone marked the grave of a mason who was born in 1747.

Cemetery mapping project

More recently, the historical society has been working with the city and an archeology firm to survey the cemetery using electromagnetic technology and ground-penetrating radar. Those tools can detect artifacts like iron coffins.

Ryan said the goal of this survey is to create an up-to-date map of the cemetery that accounts for graves that are unmarked. He believes there could be a lot of those.

“In our current database, I show about 400 names that somebody said was buried in the cemetery and we have yet to find a tombstone for them,” he said.

By identifying those sites, the city can determine whether — and where — more people can be buried in the cemetery.

“I know there is a great clamoring for, ‘Gee, is there any space left? We've been here in Marietta for a long time. Can we be buried up there?’” Ryan said.

Regardless of what the future for the cemetery holds though, Ryan said preserving the graves that are already there is paramount.

“First of all, it simply shows some respect for those who came before us,” he said. “But this one in particular, a lot of the people who came here were Revolutionary War veterans. They deserve to be remembered.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.