Springfield Burying Ground dedication preserves local history, heritage

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The Springfield Burying Ground was officially dedicated on Saturday morning, drawing a crowd of more than 200 people from across the country to honor those buried at the 222-year-old cemetery.

Organizers unveiled a new eight-foot statue of Springfield founder James Demint, who is interred on the grounds at 120 W. Columbia St. along with eight soldiers of the Revolutionary War, two from the War of 1812, and other pioneers who settled the area.

Ceremony highlights included a variety of speakers giving background and historical context of the renovation project, a performance by the Shawnee High School acapella group, presentation of colors by reenactors from the 9th Virginia Regiment and unveiling the Demint sculpture created by Urbana artist Mike Major.

Members of the Springfield Burying Ground Restoration Committee, some of whom spent several years planning and raising funds for the $1.2 million project, were thankful for the sunny weather and the more-than-expected number of visitors who turned up.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Committee president/coordinator Tom Loftis said he was grateful for those who donated their money, time and work in respecting those who laid the groundwork for the formation of the community.

“These rugged and daring pioneers who settled here gave us this place we call Springfield and home,” said Darrell Kitchen, who emceed the ceremony.

For the many family members of those interred at the Burying Ground, formerly known as the Columbia Street Cemetery, it was a chance to celebrate in multiple ways and a family reunion of sorts.

It was especially meaningful for those who’ve toured the grounds prior to the restoration like Lynne Finch, Demint’s four-times great granddaughter.

“It was so neglected before and this is absolutely beautiful. I feel good; it’s our history here,” she said.

Mark Hansell, another Demint relative on his grandmother’s side, grew up in Springfield, moved and thought he’d never find a reason to come back. Some of the new additions to the city changed that view and this sight was the capper when he was invited to the ceremony.

“It makes me proud,” Hansell said. “I’m happy history is being saved and not another piece of property bulldozed over for a parking lot.”

Local historian Kevin Rose, who spoke on Saturday, said that’s exactly what happened to many such cemeteries, and to have one preserved in the center of a town is rare.

Glenn and Barbara DeMent traveled all the way from Las Vegas to attend. The spelling variant of their last name was common for Demint family members who moved to other states.

Barbara confessed their expectations were low given the state of the cemetery six years ago when they visited. Upon seeing it now, one of her goals is to make sure all family members, no matter the spelling, appreciate their family history.

One of the younger Demint descendants, 11-year-old Charlotte Shumaker, got the privilege of unveiling the sculpture during the ceremony.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Carter Ruml, a five-time great grandson of Elijah Beardsley, who is buried there, attended from the Cincinnati area. Beardsley served in the Revolutionary War under his dad, Phineas, and the two served at Valley Forge during the harsh winter there.

“Our family had a real dedication to service. He would feel honored and respected with the care that went into this project,” said Ruml.

Like the Demints, many Beardsley descendants populated the area and branched out, founding Elkhart, Indiana and a Michigan town.

Following the ceremony, people toured the grounds and family members and visitors got photos at the statue and with each other. Committee members said the sight was what they intended and hope beyond Saturday the Burying Ground remains a site not just for those interested in history, but anyone interested in a beautiful urban area.

An endowment to preserve the grounds is accepting donations, and brochures with numerous facts and information about the Burying Grounds will be available there soon. Ruml echoed the importance of maintaining such sites, pointing to his son, Andrew, age 3.

“Each generation has to do the work so that others 150 years from now are still enjoying it,” he said.

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