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Telegraph Herald
Dubuque, Iowa
September 30, 2007

Fighting to preserve the Pioneer Spirit

Neighbor would like to see cemetery restored

By Craig D. Reber TH staff writer

Jacob Buttikoffer, a Swiss emigrant and Civil War veteran who was married in Dubuque County by Judge Stephen Hempstead in 1865, was buried in Reed's Chapel Methodist Cemetery in 1902. A small, weathered stone marks his final resting place. He's one of the small cemetery's fortunate ones.

About a half dozen tombstones lean against a large monument etched with the name John R. Lewis. A cross - old, wooden and weathered - leans against an evergreen tree. The cross used to greet the Methodist congregation attending services at Reed's Chapel, now only a memory. The cemetery, known as a "pioneer cemetery," stands along North Cascade Road, obscured by a row of tall pine trees.

Reed's Chapel was razed years ago, the flames incinerating it down the road of memories. Joan Hess, a nearby neighbor, thinks the same thing could happen to the cemetery - if something isn't done soon. The state Division of Securities & Regulated Industries has placed the cemetery on its "abandoned" cemeteries list.

"I don't want to look on it as abandoned," Hess said. "If it is abandoned, then it's gone forever."

Buttikoffer was Roger and Jerry Beau's great-grandfather. An amateur genealogist, Roger lives in Vinton. He claims that once the chapel burned, there was no structure to indicate the cemetery's location.

"The whole thing is totally changed now," he said. "It was once a beautiful cemetery."

Center Grove United Methodist Church owns the property where the cemetery sits; its board of trustees has the responsibility for its care and maintenance. The cemetery's grass is mowed, weeds are trimmed around gravestones and an adjacent property owner allows access to the site. However, the cemetery isn't what is once was.

Reed's Chapel Methodist Cemetery isn't the only pioneer cemetery facing an uncertain future. Pat Reed*, Iowa State Association for the Preservation of Iowa Cemeteries president, thinks there's an average of 30 to 35 in each county.

"It is difficult to estimate because there are many that have never been documented or reported, so they are 'discovered' from time to time by hunters, and perhaps genealogists searching for the burial sites of their ancestors," she said. "They often are found in neglected conditions in isolated, landlocked areas," she adds.

"The pioneer cemeteries collectively tell a story," Reed* said.

"They are sometimes the only vestiges left of our heritage - the cultural and ethnic origins of our people - and the only thing that is left of many villages and towns that were once part of Iowa."

Reed* said that the headstones tell us much about the nationality of those buried there, as well as how affluent they were, diseases from which they died, family history, symbolism of the carvings and their livelihoods. Genealogy is the third most popular hobby in the world, she points out.

"Persons who come to Iowa to find graves fo their ancestors are appalled to find them in deplorable condition and it does not reflect well on the perception that Iowans are ethical, caring people," Reed* said. "These descendants also bring revenue into the state, if one wants to think in strictly material terms."

The cemeteries' neglect and demise occurs in every part of the state. Apathy is the most prevalent cause of neglect, Reed* notes.

"The descendants, if there are any, of those whose graves are in pioneer cemeteries are no longer living in the area and many who live elsewhere are not aware of the neglect," she said. "The persons responsible for maintenance, usually township trustees in rural areas, are often not aware of their responsibilities or are not even aware of some of the pioneer cemeteries within their township. Some are aware, but do not wish to increase taxes by providing proper maintenance."

Reed* said the actions of concerned citizens make all the difference in bringing the plight of a neglected cemetery to the attention of the public. She cited an example in central Iowa, where two descendants of pioneers whose graves are in a neglected cemetery in Marshall County have persevered for 10 years and are finally getting the cemetery fenced, cleaned up and the stones repaired. She added that a similar event happened in Iowa County to a cemetery that has been in existence since before the Amana Colonies.

"Caring individuals are the key to the restoration of pioneer cemeteries," Reed* said. Her advice to those people is: "Don't give up."

Eventually their perseverance will pay off, she adds, and the movement to give the burial sites the dignity and respect they deserve will gain momentum with others in the area.

However, few people know where the Reed's Chapel cemetery is. Traffic often exceeds the 45 mph speed limit along the road, trees partially obscure the site and there is no sign denoting the area. It could be mistaken as someone's yard. Adult trees surround the cemetery on three sides - on the other is a large shed.

"No one knows it's a cemetery," said Hess, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years. "Those who have loved ones in the cemetery, it's nice to go out, visit and sit in the grass, and think of the good times they enjoyed. I just don't know how to proceed more."

Hess isn't pointing fingers in accusations or condemning adjacent property owners. Dubuque County officials, including county engineer Mike Felderman and supervisor Wayne Demmer, have been helpful, she notes, pledging their support. However, action is required, she emphasizes, not words.

"Let's open that cemetery is all I'm saying," Hess said. "it would take manpower. Would people be willing to do that?"

People in other counties have, according to Reed*. Cemetery restoration is a great project for community service groups, such as 4-H clubs, Boy and Girl Scouts, church youth groups and FFA organizations, she said, adding all of these groups have successfully completed the restoration of pioneer cemeteries in various communities.

If a local Boy Scout or troop is interested, Hess has plenty of information, including how to repair headstones. She's enlisted the help of a friend, Gerene Collins, who shares her views and who helped locate the Beau family.

"Cemeteries are a special part of American history," Hess said. "We need people like the Beau family to be able to honor their family members and loved ones who are buried there."

What Hess hopes to see someday is a sign denoting Reed's Chapel Methodist Cemetery, the cross put upright and a pathway built for direct access off North Cascade Road. The path could serve as a link to Jacob Buttikoffer's life, as well as others buried in the cemetery.

"This is all a part of history, even though we don't often think of it that way," Roger Beau said. "How a society is measured is what it does for the least of us. To me, here's really the least of us. Those who can do nothing about the situation are buried there. I'm sure after three generations, it's easy to forget. But is forgetting how we respect them? I don't think so."


*Pat Shaw was mistakenly referred to as Pat Reed throughout the article.



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