|LOUISA COUNTY, IOWA|
This article was found pasted into a scrap book prepared by Dorothea ‘Dottie’ Mc Dole.
Name of newspaper was not noted, handwritten date; December 25, 2003.
Transcribed by Lynn McCleary, July 2, 2014
COUPLE RESTORES CEMETERY WITH LOVE
By Connie Street
OAKVILLE- Richard Lehnert and wife Jane spent two years restoring an early Louisa County cemetery.
About 1992, Richard Lehnert climbed the steep hill on the Chris and Judy Ball farm to take a look at the old Smith Cemetery. A history buff, he’d heard of it and always wondered just where it was located.
High above the Iowa River valley where the American Indians, Black Hawk and Keokuk, had camped before white settlement, Lehnert discovered three small stones standing in the tiny cemetery, three large ones toppled over and several others piled against an old wrought iron fence.
Lehnert took photographs that became the centerpiece for1996 legislation that created the definition of a pioneer cemetery and made it possible for each county in Iowa to have its own Cemetery Commission. He became a member of Louisa County’s commission.
When he returned nearly a decade later, he decided to do his best to restore the cemetery. He and Jane worked on the renovation off and on as they had the time and energy – repairing stones and setting them in place.
“It is that only pioneer cemetery in Eliot Township,” the 76-year-old Lehnert said last week. “I thought it deserved some attention.”
Lehnert made a sign identifying the cemetery and had a chain-link fence placed around the known cemetery boundary. Lehnert believes the site might have been much larger and that many stones are lost or broken. He found some stones with initials, but no names to identify them.
Lehnert had no way of knowing where each person was buried, so he place families together.
While leveling the ground and filling holes, he discovered one stone completely buried, that of 6-monthold Gay J. Alstot, son of W.H. and M. Alstot. He placed the small stone of Gay’s sister, Carrie Alstot who died in 1898 at age 12, next to it. On Carrie’s stone is the poem: “This lovely bud so young and fair, Called hence by early doom, Just comes to show, Such a flower in paradise would bloom.”
The oldest stone in the cemetery is that of Jesse Smith who died Sept. 7, 1846 at the age of 7 months and 12 days. Next to him is sister, Rachel who died in 1849 at age 9 months. Nearby, are their mother Rachel widow of John Smith, and other siblings. Her stone says she was from Shenandoah County, Va.,
Lehnert is amazed at the workmanship of the limestone grave markers. He believes they probably were quarried nearby. The wrought iron fence and gate and the hinges are also the work of a craftsman. He cut down about a half dozen trees, some which had grown into the old wrought iron fence, wrecking it. He needed a hoist and a tractor to get the largest stones put into place.
The 40-foot by 50-foot cemetery is often referred to as the Mormon Cemetery, but Lehnert has found no reason for that name. He believes those buried here were neighbors who lived in the vicinity. Although he hasn’t proved it, he thinks the family might have been related to Samuel Smith, Louisa County’s first sheriff.
There is a local tradition connecting the cemetery to the Morman faith. It goes like this. A young Mormon girl, Sarah Jane Rea of Sparta, Mo., wanted to marry Solon Peck who was not a Mormon. Her father was against the match so they eloped in a horse and buggy. The couple was married and settled in Louisa County. They had a least one son before Sarah died in 1901 during childbirth. Hers is the newest stone in the cemetery.
Other names in the cemetery are Carl, Cludy, Dochterman, Hannan, Newell and Rea.