Local hero’s resting place

The burial site of a community’s namesake or founder is often marked by a well-cared-for headstone, a commemorative plaque or even a statue.

However, sometimes the final resting places of these famous figures become lost to history.

Until recently, that was the case for Lt. Joseph Frye, an early settler of the Waterford area, whose legacy is an integral part of the settlement’s survival.

“That happened a lot. Back in the early 1800’s, years before embalming, you buried people on your property. You probably put up a wooden marker,” said local historian and author Louise Zimmer.

But those early markers did not last long, and it would not be unusual for the property to change hands and for later owners to not even know that anyone was buried there, she said.

That was likely what happened with Frye, for whom there is no death or burial record in the Washington County Courthouse, said Zimmer.

“We have been looking for (Frye’s burial site) for quite some time now,” said Phillip Crane, researcher for the Lower Muskingum Historical Society.

Crane began writing an extensive history of Frye and his legacy for the historical society’s quarterly publication, “Reflections,” in early 2010.

Born in 1765 in Andover, Mass., Frye came to Waterford around 1789 as part of the Second Association, a group of 39 men tasked by the Ohio Company with securing more land in the vast Northwest Territory, said Crane.

“He’s the namesake of Fort Frye, but people wonder why it was named after him since he wasn’t the commander there,” said Crane.

Soon after settling in the area in late 1789, Frye, a Harvard University graduate, began advocating for the construction of a defensive fort to protect the new residents against attacks from Native Americans, said Crane. But residents resisted the idea, citing “The Treaty of Fort Harmar,” which was signed earlier that year, he said.

“He drew up some plans for a fort anyway,” said Crane.

And when a massacre of the settlers in nearby Big Bottom took place in early 1791, Frye’s foresight paid off and a fort was able to be quickly erected based on his unique three-sided design, said Crane.

Frye went on to do many well-documented things, such as teach, collect taxes, and serve on juries in nearby Marietta. However, his death and burial had always remained somewhat of a mystery, said Crane.

“We have always heard stories of an old, abandoned cemetery in downtown Waterford,” he said.

Local legends pointed to a plot of land behind the building that now houses Jukebox Pizza.

Existence of the cemetery itself has been well documented, said Crane.

For her 1997 book “Then and Now,” the late local historian Winnie Johnson researched the cemetery through various early 19th century deeds. She found references to a thirty-foot square burial plot reserved inside a specific plot of land, the boundaries of which are still visible on a modern tax map.

Johnson also noted that the old cemetery was furthered evidenced by the spring Easter lilies that bloomed on that specific plot of land, which was nestled between what is now Mill Street and a set of railroad tracks, said Crane.

Though the area is now overtaken by trees, brush, and debris, the lilies do still bloom there, he said.

Since Frye, and other notable early settlers, such as Maj. Asa Coburn, were not buried with other contemporaries in the nearby Waterford Cemetery, the abandoned plot behind Jukebox Pizza seemed like a definite possibility. But with no remaining headstones, no one could tell.

That is at least, until Crane dug up a letter, written to The McConnelsville Herald in 1938, which connected Frye to the fabled cemetery.

“Someone had written to the Herald asking where Fort Frye had been built. And a judge here wrote back saying he didn’t know where the fort had been, but knew where Frye had been buried,” said Crane.

In the late 1800’s, the letter writer, Judge William H. Leeper, had co-owned Smiley and Leeper, where Jukebox Pizza sits today.

In the letter, Leeper recalled seeing around eight to 10 stones there, but could remember only two names, those of Frye and Coburn.

“A lot of people wonder why they wouldn’t have just buried them up in Waterford Cemetery,” said Crane.

Waterford Cemetery had already been founded by 1814, the year Frye died.

Explained Crane, it is likely Frye was buried there because the land for the cemetery had been donated by Frye’s friend, Dean Tyler, and was located near Tyler’s blockhouse.

It is hard to say what became of the cemetery.

Through 1828, the “public burying ground” was referenced in deeds, but when the property changed hands again in 1831, no reference to the cemetery was made, said Crane.

Zimmer said people often stopped caring for burial plots because new owners would rather use the space for a barn or a garden.

In Leeper’s letter, he recalls seeing neglected graves and toppled sandstone markers the year he bought the store, which he listed as 1874. However, deeds show that Leeper bought the store in 1881, and it is likely that he simply got the year wrong, said Crane.

Regardless, it is likely that Leeper’s recollection of the physical graves is one of the last. And only now, nearly 200 years after his death, has the location of Frye’s final resting place become known once again.