Hidden graves an ongoing issue

Although written records date the earliest burials in Valley Cemetery at nearly 180 years ago, some unmarked graves there could be several years older.

“We have to probe very carefully before opening new graves, especially in the Valley Cemetery section, because there are quite a few graves that were not marked,” said Larry McKitrick, the cemetery’s maintenance superintendent. Valley Cemetery is now part of East Lawn Memorial Park in Reno.

He said the telltale sound of metal striking a wooden coffin is a good indicator that there’s an unmarked grave just below the cemetery’s surface.

“Valley is the oldest part of the cemetery,” McKitrick said. “We do have graves there that date back to the early 1800s.”

Ernie Thode, former director of Washington County’s Local History and Genealogy Library, said a book of readings of East Lawn Memorial Park and Valley Cemetery by local historian and author Wes Cochran indicates the oldest grave in Valley Cemetery belongs to 11-month-old Soloman Harness, son of Granville and Jane (Compton) Harness. The child died on June 16, 1834.

“The next earliest grave that I found was Naomi M. Bean, wife of James Bean, who died on Nov. 17, 1835, aged 36 years,” Thode said. “Those two stones are located in the section with upright stones next to State Route 7 in the Valley Cemetery portion. And the oldest portion of Valley Cemetery is closest to the road.”

Thode said many of the names found in Cochran’s book seemed to be old settlers of the area who would most likely have been buried in the Valley Cemetery.

Some of those names included West, Thorniley, Racer, Alcock, Harness and Harsha.

“Wes does not distinguish between Valley and East Lawn in his book,” Thode said. “But some of the burial dates for those families do come from the early years.”

He said Valley Cemetery definitely existed in 1834, but he could not tell from the written records whether the cemetery dated earlier than that.

McKitrick also noted some of the older stone monuments in Valley Cemetery are so weathered that the names and dates of the deceased are no longer legible.

But he said it’s not difficult for visitors to delineate between the old Valley Cemetery and the newer East Lawn Memorial Park.

“Valley has a lot of upright monuments, but in the East Lawn section the grave markers are all flat,” he said.

East Lawn Memorial Park director Tony McDaniel said Valley Cemetery contains several unusual monuments.

“There are also three above-ground sandstone sarcophagi,” he said.

McDaniel said East Lawn Memorial Park and Valley Cemetery is among 15 cemeteries and funeral homes operated by parent company American Cemetery Services based in Wooster.

“American has been in business for 45 years, and operates full-service cemeteries,” he said, noting East Lawn offers traditional as well as crematory burial services.

“We average around 220 burials a year, including cremations,” McDaniel said.

McKitrick, who has worked at East Lawn for 23 years, said the cemetery belonged to John Santone when he began working there.

“Santone later sold it to the Loewen Group who then sold the cemetery to American Cemetery Services in 2001,” he said.

McKitrick said the cemetery still has plenty of room for growth.