I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my experiences at some amazing cemeteries over the last six months. And yes, it’s been that long since I started the blog! It’s hard to believe that this will be my 23rd blog post since Adventures in Cemetery Hopping began on January 18.
In light of that milestone, I’d like to share a story about what happens when a cemetery is no longer cared for and becomes a shadow of itself. That’s what has happened to Old Greencastle Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.
My first and only visit to Old Greencastle came just last year when I was back in Dayton for a funeral (ironically so). Thanks to some research on Ancestry.com, I discovered that my paternal great-great-grandparents, Samuel and Margaret Coffman Grice, were buried there.
In 1849, Simon McClure donated three acres of land in West Dayton’s small Greencastle village to Henry Shoup to build a church and burial ground. A one-storey building (Miami Chapel United Brethren Church) was erected on that plot of land the same year. Greencastle Cemetery’s name comes from the “Greencastle Circuit” of the United Brethren churches (a sect from Germany that still exists today) to which the church belonged. The Greencastle plat itself predates 1826 and is one of the oldest in Dayton.
The original Miami Chapel United Brethren Church was torn down in 1912 and replaced with the current church building that remains there, abandoned and boarded up.
Old Greencastle Cemetery is probably the oldest in Dayton. The earliest dated tombstone found in the cemetery was inscribed in 1817, which leads many to believe that the land was used as a family graveyard at one time. Unfortunately, few of the cemetery’s records prior to 1913 exist as many of the cemetery’s records, graves, and gravestones were destroyed during the 1913 Dayton flood. That probably includes Samuel Grice’s grave since he died in 1912. Margaret died in 1919.
Old Greencastle was the original resting place of Otis and Ida Wright (they were twins), brother and sister of the famous Orville and Wilbur Wright. Those graves have since been moved to Woodland Cemetery where the other Wrights are buried, and where several members of my family are buried. Considering the state that Old Greencastle is in now, that was probably a wise decision.
Also within the cemetery are the graves of many Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War. An actual cannon is in the center of them, which was in the best shape among the other sections. One section was reserved for children from the Montgomery County Ohio Children’s Home, which was open from 1867-1928. I did see a few of them while I was hunting.
When I told my Aunt Jo what I had in mind, she chuckled and said, “Really? That’s in a pretty bad part of town now.” She and my mother (her twin) spent their early years living close to that neighborhood before I-75 was built through the middle of it. However, I checked with a fellow Find a Grave volunteer who said while the neighborhood was iffy, nobody bothered the cemetery and the gates were usually open.
Despite her doubts, Aunt Jo was too excited at the prospect of cemetery hopping to stay away. My Mom was also game so we set off no knowing quite what to expect and thinking maybe we should have brought mace.
Old Greencastle is indeed in the ‘hood. But we were there on a Sunday and not much was going on. The few people that did walk or drive by were totally uninterested in us. I can’t help wondering if the residents know not to mess with the dead and give the place a wide bearth. There didn’t appear to be any signs of vandalism but that’s probably because walking the grounds is like going through an obstacle course. If you want to make a quick sprint across the lot, forget it.
This cemetery proved to be the most challenging in my short hopping career. The grass was waist high in some spots so watching where you stepped was a must. Not to mention the holes. I don’t know if they were gopher holes or what animals had created them but I didn’t want to find out. I blocked that out. Even now, I thank God that nobody broke an ankle and we didn’t have to call 911.
Once most of the burials stopped there in the 1940s because it had no more room (I did see a few graves as recent as the 70s) and the church congregation moved on, Old Greencastle started going down hill. The church opened New Greencastle Cemetery a few streets over and it is still an active cemetery today. Any money set aside for perpetual care at the old place dried up. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for it, including the City of Dayton. The grass would be cut sporadically (a dangerous chore indeed) and American flags placed on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day. But that’s about it.
There are many cemeteries like Old Greencastle slowly sliding into decay and ruin that will never be saved. Sometimes one gets rescued if the community takes action and does something to preserve it. There are steps that can be taken to do that. But it takes time and money, two things most people do not have much of to spare.
At the time we visited, I didn’t know who was supposed to be taking care of Old Greencastle. I’ve since learned that the property does have a superintendent and he is trying to enlist support in getting it cleaned up. I hope he is successful because this one is definitely worth saving. There’s too much history there.
Despite spending quite a lot of time looking around, we never did find my great-grandparents’ graves. I did find some graves bearing Margaret’s mother’s maiden name (Olinger). This was one of the founding families of the church. They may be related to Margaret in some way. Maybe some day I will come back and try again. I want to see if improvements are being made. Maybe there’s a chance Old Greencastle will be one of the lucky ones.
I really hope it is.