History

 

Adams Street Cemetery Project

 

The Adams Street Cemetery Project is a collaborative research-based community service project involving Baldwin Wallace faculty members, students, and professional historians from the Berea Historical Society, and City of Berea personnel.  We are working together to rediscover the lost histories of those buried in the Adams Street Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Berea.

This cemetery has a troubled history.  Its earliest burials date from 1834, two years before Berea was founded.  It functioned as Berea's main cemetery through the nineteenth century.  At one time, twenty-one Civil War veterans were buried there.  However, in 1886, the Cleveland Stone Co. bought the locally-owned quarries adjacent to the cemetery, where Coe Lake is now.  Quarrying activities had already caused flooding and landslides throughout the area, and even undermined the foundations of the local Methodist church.  A local urban legend says that the Cleveland Stone Co. quarry operated too close to the edge of the cemetery, causing a landslide in its northwest corner that exposed some graves.  Worried families moved their loved ones to other cemeteries, including five of the Civil War veterans. 

The cemetery continued to accept burials, including that of a World War I veteran.  But in the 1930s, the cemetery was neglected.  In 1930, vandals devastated it, knocking over many of the tombstones.  By 1934, weeds and grass covered many of the graves.

In recent years, the City of Berea has maintained the cemetery, building a fence around it.  The American Legion Post 91 has decorated veterans' graves.  But in 2001, the only person who knew where veterans were buried died, leaving no records.  The City of Berea discovered that its records of burials were incomplete, and called upon the Baldwin Wallace University History Department to help map the cemetery and locate graves.

BW students have done important work on this project, learning research skills and methods by doing professional historical research.  Students have located the current grave sites of all twenty-two veterans, and have arranged for damaged grave markers to be replaced.  They have helped families locate their ancestors' graves.  Students also arranged for a ground-penetrating radar scan of the cemetery, which located 116 unmarked burials and confirmed that there had been a landslide in the northwest corner of the cemetery.  Students even handled public relations for the project, doing interviews for Pursuit, the News-Sun, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Channel 5 News.  Previous students have mapped the known graves, researched the life stories of the dead for a "walking tour" brochure, desigged an interpretive exhibit on the cemetery for the Berea Historical Society, and created an online, searchable database of genealogical and biographical information (http://mcs.bw.edu/~bereahis).  We've helped families in several states locate their relatives' graves, and have even assisted one family in placing a new gravestone on a previously unmarked grave.  In summer 2009, gravestone conservator Jonathan Appell came here to train 25 students, faculty, and community members in gravestone conservation, and three students used the techniques to clean and repair tombstones.   In 2009-2010, eleven theater and history students expanded the project to other area cemeteries and then co-wrote a play, Speaking Stones, that told the history of Berea through the stories of its dead.  It was performed in BW's William Allman Theater on April 28 and 29, 2010.  To see a YouTube video of an interview Dr. Gesink did on the cemetery project for Cool Cleveland in 2010, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Od0nj0fDPrk.  To hear Dee Perrry interview Dr. Gesink and student participant Dylan Dwyer about Speaking Stones, go to http://www.wcpn.org/index.php/WCPN/an/30536/ .

You can help.  There are mysteries yet to be solved.  Did the quarrying really desecrate graves?  Who is buried in the unmarked graves?  Are there burials outside the current fence?  How did all these people live, and die?  Help us restore their past, and their dignity.  Help us restore Berea's history.

If you are interested in participating or supporting the project, contact the Chair of the History Department, Dr. Indira Gesink, at 440-826-2280 or igesink@bw.edu. Students may earn course credit for participation through the independent study program, through Faculty-Student Collaborative Scholarship, or through internships.  Students from all disciplines are welcome to participate.

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