MUSCATINE COUNTY HOME CEMETERY
HISTORY OF THE MUSCATINE COUNTY HOME CEMETERY
by Eleanor B. McCleary
September 27, 1883, the County of Muscatine in the State of Iowa purchased 160 acres in Bloomington Township for $12,000 from Reuben N. and Sarah A. Baker. On this land the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors had built buildings of "suitable character and made comfortable and pleasant for the care and protection of the county's unfortunate ones not able to care for themselves". In the History of Muscatine County, Iowa, published in 1911, it stated that the County Farm (also known as the County Home) was practically self-supporting since its foundation and had cared for and sheltered on an average of about thirty-five inmates each year. The residents grew much of their own food in the gardens and managed the Farm's dairy herd. The surplus was sold in town, thus providing funds for their other expenses.
Tucked away on the grounds is a little known cemetery. Throughout Muscatine County history it has been referred to as the County Farm Cemetery, County Home Cemetery, Pottersfield, Bloomington Township Cemetery and Muscatine County Cemetery. Over time, its' grounds were neglected and the burial register lost.
In 1987 Jim BeVier, a long time staff member of the County Home, started to reclaim the cemetery. He writes:
"Three sides of the cemetery had a wrought iron fence around it. The gate had been left open and the cattle were free to traverse the area. At that time, many of the markers had been pulled up and piled in the south east corner. Weeds and small trees had grown to four feet tall and there was a patch of brush which was eight to nine feet tall. This patch of brush was covering a twenty by thirty foot area. The wrought iron fence had a vine six inches in diameter running through a twenty foot section of the east side. The fence on the west side had sagged away from the north and south end wrought iron fence leaving a four foot gap. The wrought iron fence was rusty and in need of paint.
When the weeds and brush were cleaned out we found 86 cast iron numeric markers, numbering from two to ninety-nine. Many were broken off or bent over from cattle. We did find ten markers in place. They were: 46, 47, 61, 67, 69, 89, 94, 95 and 99.
We measured the width and length of the cemetery. Then measured distance of each marker from North and East fences. We placed a mark on paper at the point of intersection and figured the lay out of cemetery".
Jim BeVier was not able to find a registry of burials. In 1989, he and June Gibson, a genealogist from Muscatine, compiled a partial list of 58 names when they located some death certificates on file at the County Home and some burial records at Musser Public Library.
The County Home, located at 1906 Houser Street, is now known as Muscatine County Residential Services. No longer is the land farmed. On March 28, 1994, Muscatine County Board of Supervisors transferred 75 acres from the management of the County Residential Services to the Muscatine County Conservation Board for the purpose of developing a new county park. The park was named Muscatine County Environmental Discovery Center. Its address is 3300 Cedar Street, Muscatine.
The Research Committee consisted of Eleanor(Lynn) McCleary, Project Coordinator, Gladys Mittman, Jo Ann Carlson, Rose Hohenadel, Cathy Anson, Georgann McClure, Cindy Boyd and Jim BeVier.
The committee first searched for the County Home Cemetery burial register at Muscatine County Court House. Neither the Auditor's office, County Clerk, or Recorder's had any knowledge of this record's existence. The Muscatine County and City Engineer offices were contacted to see if they had a cemetery plat. Nothing.
Former administrators of the County Home were contacted. Kenny Duncan, Director of Relief from 1965 to 1981, said he had tried to find the cemetery burial register with no success. During his tenure he did not permit any burials in this cemetery.
Harry and Elaine Banta, who managed the County Farm for many years said they recalled a framed cemetery plat which used to be hang in the office. The County Residential Services offices were searched by the staff to no avail. The theory is the cemetery plat simply disappeared in the transition of time.
Members of the Genealogical Society brought out "witching" instruments in an attempt to get an idea as to the numbers of burials. It was an amazing time, for all kinds of disturbed ground was found. Daryl Mitchell, of Muscatine, brought in his metal detector, and walked the area. More marker fragments were found under the sod. Some were numeric cast iron plates and others were three inch high tin numbers. It became very evident that more than 99 people were buried in the cemetery.
Ray Stange, a contract farmer of County Home land from 1971 to the mid 1990's, recalled that at one time the cemetery had white painted wooden crosses with tin numbers on them. He befriended a resident of the home, Roy Manley, now deceased, who worked with him with the dairy herd. Roy said that many times, he and other residents, helped dig a grave. A horse-drawn wagon would carry the wooden casket, covered by gray cloth, to the cemetery accompanied by a preacher who gave the final blessing.
It was first thought that the cemetery was the final resting place of only County Home residents. Not so, for as we read County Home records and newspaper obituaries, we were surprised to learn that all the people were of the county, most very poor. Greenwood Cemetery seemed to be selected as the final resting place of people who were wards of the "City of Muscatine" whereas the County Home Cemetery had the wards of "Muscatine County" during this time span.
Through hours of research searching 65 years of burial records from 1905 to 1970 at the Muscatine County Court House, County Home records, funeral home records, WPA Graves Registration Project records, and newspaper obituaries on file at Musser Public Library, the research committee was able to verify 157 burials. Record of the first burial at the County Home (Farm) was 1907. The last was 1965.
There is no doubt in our minds that there are others buried at the County Home Cemetery, however their burial records have not been confirmed at the time of this publication.
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This page was put online by Dave Dunston, July 1, 2001