CHURUBUSCO — It may be easy to drive past Concord Cemetery without noticing it.
Should you stop to take a look around, the sight may haunt your memory.
At roughly 180 years old and counting, the very first graveyard in Whitley County sits at the corner of North Johnson Road and County Road 150 North, secluded on a of a hilltop next to farmland.
The cemetery is showing its age. The grass is overgrown. Many headstones are missing, broken and those that have toppled over have sunken down into the ground.
Pamela Wolfe, a resident of Whitley County for 50 years, happened to be biking past the intersection nearly a year ago when she first took notice.
“I love graveyards and I was so sad to see it look like this. I was kind of angry,” she said.
Wolfe is determined to get the property cleaned up. For her, it’s less about sprucing up an eyesore and more about respecting the hallowed ground.
She and Janel Rogers teamed together to spearhead an effort set on renovating the piece of land, and their Facebook page, “Friends of Concord Cemetery,” is becoming a sizeable volunteer effort within the community. According to the Facebook account, the group’s goal is, “to restore and preserve the rich history of the Concord Cemetery.”
“We’re looking for time, talent and treasure,” said Wolfe.
The first work day saw about 20 people come out to clear brush, excavate headstones and to identify proper burial sites. The second workday will be June 10, amd they hope to begin cleaning headstones and resetting them when and where possible.
Nearly 100 years passed between the first recorded burial in 1838 and the final grave going in sometime during the 1930s. With exactly 167 known individuals laying claim to the less than three-quarter-acre plot of land, the task is no small feat, but Wolfe and Rogers are relentless for improvement.
Of all the graves, 60 belong to children, with 50 of those being under the age of 6. Five Civil War veterans are buried in Concord, along with a Daughter of the American Revolution. With that knowledge, as well as the fact that this is the county’s oldest cemetery, Wolfe can’t help but wonder, “Why hasn’t anything been done?”
The answer to her question is not clear.
The cemetery was deeded to Smith Township about three years ago. Wolfe and Rogers asked for permission from the local trustee to take on the renovation project. So far, it’s been all about doing the dirty work, yet they hope that over the course of time real noticeable changes will take place. They believe the volunteer effort could take years — but that’s not a bad thing.
In April, Jeannie Regan-Dinius came from Indianapolis to offer her professional advice. She works in the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology, and is the director of special initiatives. Concord Cemetery isn’t the worst she’s seen, and the problem is not rare.
“It’s not uncommon, especially for older cemeteries where there are no loved ones around, or if the church isn’t around anymore, to be in states of disarray,” she said.
Both of these factors apply to Concord.
Regan-Dinius is optimistic about the cemetery’s future, especially given the galvanized volunteer effort to bring life back to the humble, overlooked piece of history. She also attested to the fact that the project will likely be a lengthy endeavor.
“The decay didn’t happen overnight, so fixing it isn’t going to happen overnight,” Regan-Dinius said.
For now, Concord Cemetery needs helping hands of all skill levels and a few charitable donations to keep this project thriving. The group is seeking 1-by-2-foot boards, cement epoxy, large clamps and Portland white cement. A load of sand and pea gravel have already been donated by Buesching’s Peat Moss & Mulch.