May is Cemetery Appreciation Month: Allamakee County Pioneer Cemetery Commission seeking volunteers; Open house event scheduled for May 16

The Bailey Plot ... Pictured above is a grave marker slab found in what is now known as “The Bailey Plot” along Smithfield Drive in southern Allamakee County. The stone reads “Bailey - died 1862 May 23 - Children of Henry & S Bailey”. It is small plots like these that the Allamakee County Pioneer Cemetery Commission is interested in trying to record and maintain as part of the group’s purpose and mission. Submitted photo.

Pioneer Cemetery in Village Creek area ... Grave stones stand tall among years of plant growth in the Village Creek Cemetery located in rural Lansing. Cemeteries such as this one are considered to be Pioneer Cemeteries and will likely see more attention by the Allamakee County Pioneer Cemetery Commission currently seeking volunteers. Submitted photo.

The Allamakee County Pioneer Cemetery Commission is having an open house at the Freedom Bank lower level in Waukon Tuesday, May 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A short presentation will begin at 1 p.m. but those interested can stop in anytime for a cup of coffee.

Someone will be present to answer questions all day about the Commission. Anyone who cannot attend and has questions or information to share is asked to contact Commission member Marcia Rush.

A Pioneer Cemetery is defined as a cemetery that has 12 or fewer burials in the last 50 years. A Pioneer Cemetery may be an individual burial, a family plot or an area within an existing cemetery.

It is estimated that in 1996, Allamakee County had 20 cemeteries in the county plus six small plots and several single burials that would meet the qualifications of a Pioneer Cemetery. Since then, at least two more plots and one cemetery can be added to that list.

On display at the May 16 open house will be some pictures of work already done; copies of some old cemetery plat maps; items and ideas to use to clean and preserve tombstones - and what not to use; as well as a map of Allamakee County with all the cemeteries marked on it which was completed by Ada Marie Kerndt for the Allamakee County Historical Society Genealogy Research Center.

For anyone who may remember where someone was buried in a place that now has a different purpose, these burials should be documented, whether the names of those buried there are known or not. Some burials were simply marked with a wooden cross or stone that is long gone, but the Commission would still like to document them.

Some of the goals that a Pioneer Cemetery Commission may have are to assess the most endangered areas, map out burials in existing cemeteries, clean, straighten and repair broken stones, fencing if needed, brush removal, and update a map of all the cemeteries in Allamakee County. These are just some ideas of what the Commission can do. The Commission will also work with township trustees, where needed, and can help families apply for government headstones or markers for a deceased Veteran.

The Allamakee County Pioneer Cemetery Commission is looking for volunteers to help in many different ways.

“Maybe you would like to only clean stones or just straighten them, or it might be that you would like to map out burials or maybe just help with a cemetery near where you live or where you have family members buried,” shared Commission member Marcia Rush. “That is up to you. We can always use the help.”

After the May 16 open house, the Commission will begin meeting monthly for those who would like to be involved or if anyone has information to share. The public is always welcome to attend those meetings.

The Allamakee County Pioneer Cemetery Commission will have five commissioners serving three-year terms. Anyone who would like to be on the Allamakee County Pioneer Cemetery Commission should contact the Allamakee County Auditor’s office or Marcia Rush for an application.

“In a grocery store a few years ago I was approached by someone who told me about a cemetery east of Waukon where an elderly lady came every spring and placed flowers; there were no stones, she just laid them on the ground,” Rush shared. “When asked about why she did this, she said, ‘There were stones there years ago, but over the years the grasses grew and the soil covered the three stones’.”

Rush says the Commission would be able to bring these stones up to the top of the ground, level and reset them, and give them a good cleaning. This would probably take the better part of a day, depending on how much help there was, and then that burial site could be documented in the cemetery records.

“I remember going to my grandparents near Smithfield, and Dad would stop and all of us kids would climb up a steep bank and pull weeds around a stone that was under a huge elm tree,” Rush reflected. “The tree is long gone and the road was widened years ago. I asked Wesley Winters, a road maintenance driver for the area, years ago about the tombstone. He said it was still there.

“A few years ago I was at the Forest Mills Quilt Shop, and Dianne Rissman, Carolyn Clark and I got talking about a tombstone that was along a fence,” Rush continued. “It wasn’t long before Carolyn and I drove up Smithfield Drive where we knew about where the tombstone was. After finding it, we took pictures but did not disturb the surrounding area. On the stone was ‘Bailey - died 1863 May 23 - Children of Henry & S Bailey’.”

Clark posted it on the Find A Grave website, and a few months later someone found it. The local story says that the Bailey family was part of a wagon train moving through Allamakee County in the fall of 1862. The family pulled out of the train when one or more of their children fell ill and the Bailey’s over-wintered somewhere in the Yellow River Valley. The word “children” appears on the stone, indicating more than one of the Bailey children died. The next spring the family continued on their journey, leaving the area.

“We call this the Bailey Plot. I am sure there are a lot of stories like this one out there,” Rush shared.

As recently as Saturday, April 22, Rush attempted to find the Bailey Plot, and together with Rissman and Clark from the Forest Mills Quilt Shop was able to discover it once again. “It’s a slab marker,” Rush explained. “Some are four, six or eight feet tall. This one is broken off at the top and bottom. The rest of it is most likely right there.”

Rush went on to say that the story has been told that the family wintered in a nearby cave, with Clark describing the cave at one time being big enough that two teams of horses pulling two wagons could fit into it, and men standing in the wagon could not touch the top of the cave. Lloyd Clark had a picture post card showing that cave description to be accurate.

“We only found one child listed on the stone we found (see the accompanying photo),” Rush said. “Finding the rest of the stone, resetting, fixing the breaks and cleaning will definitely be on the agenda for the Allamakee Pioneer Cemetery Commission.”