Renovated historic Springfield Burying Ground to be dedicated Saturday

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Time, $1.2 million needed to restore historic cemetery downtown.

One of the most lively places in Springfield this weekend will be a historic resting place, one that has been resurrected and renovated without ever having gone away.

The Springfield Burying Ground, located at 120 W. Columbia St., will have a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday with guests, speakers, musical entertainment, a statue unveiling and information on the historical context and local significance of the site. The public is invited to attend.

It’s taken several years and a lot of patience for the $1.2 million project to become a reality. The citizens who came together as the Springfield Burying Ground Restoration Committee, which oversaw the project, want it to be a place never to be forgotten again, one of historical importance and community pride.

“It’s been a decade of meeting and dreaming,” said Tom Loftis, president/coordinator of the committee.

Opened in 1801, the Burying Ground was active until the late 1800s and then mostly neglected for many years, a place passed by and mostly forgotten. But containing the final resting places of Springfield founder James Demint, veterans of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and even a participant of the Boston Tea Party inspired Springfielders to take it from an afterthought to point of interest.

While it had been a goal since as early as 2006, the renovation project really got moving in the mid 2010s, gathering momentum in 2018 by gaining a 501C3 and a deed from the city for the repair and maintenance on the burying ground and an endowment established.

“We didn’t know what we wanted. We had all ideas but knew we wanted a community space, a place where people can relax, pray, meditate,” said committee member Al Wansing.

Among the turning points were when committee member Bob Hulsizer took the proposal to John Landess, executive director of the charitable Turner Foundation, who offered support. Fellow member Paul “Ski” Schanher added the appointment of Loftis as another key for the progress along with new partnerships.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Darrell Kitchen of Ferncliff Cemetery was one of the people who offered advice, including the types of trees that would work best at the site.

After working with an archaeologist to conduct a modern survey of the area using ground-penetrating radar and treating the resting places of those interred with proper respect, the renovations began in the spring of 2022 with the addition of paved walkways, new aluminum fencing and stone fronts and an archway with the name over the entrance for the community to appreciate and learn about the earliest settlers of the area and about Springfield history.

A statue of Demint created by local artist Mike Major is one of the centerpieces and will be officially unveiled during the ceremony. The space is also handicapped-accessible.

Kevin Rose, a committee member and historian, said this type of renovation project is rare, but what’s even more rare is finding a historic cemetery still intact. Most communities paved over and built buildings over similar sites, such as Lincoln Park in Chicago.

He said Springfield leaders considered the spot for a hospital or even the former Memorial Hall. But it somehow persisted even as industrialization and progress grew around it, with only city maintenance crews mowing it.

“It was about doing it properly and would cost time, money and headaches to make sure we didn’t disturb the remains of the people interred there,” he said.

Committee member Sonya Ryhal has had a unique opportunity in seeing the revival. Also a member of the local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter, the group has done a December National Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Burying Ground since 2020 prior to the renovation, including this past December after the additions were done, and she has heard numerous positive comments on it.

One of the highlights of Saturday’s event is the inclusion of family members of some of the interred as guests. Those relatives will travel from as far as Colorado, Las Vegas and other areas. Committee members attribute that to people talking about the project on social media.

Rose sees this as a place to serve the families of the next generation and keep the spirit of the grounds.

“I think we’ve done it,” he said.

While the endowment had to be borrowed from to make up for cost overruns, it has built back up to and will be further used to maintain it so it remains a historic treasure for generations to come and another reason to explore downtown.

The committee members agree that the goal is for the Burying Ground to show pride in the area’s heritage. Loftis said if you ask the average citizen here, they wouldn’t know there’s Revolutionary War soldiers or from the War of 1812 buried in our city.

“Come down Saturday and you’ll walk away with a new appreciation of our community and its heritage,” said Hulsizer. “It’s one more piece of downtown Springfield’s revival.”

Parking for the ceremony will be available at the Ohio Valley Surgical Center lot across the street from the Burying Ground, in the lot next to the Hatch Artist Studios and the city parking garage.

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