Ann Arbor's oldest cemeteries
Question Corner: February 2009
by Tim Athan
Q. What is the oldest cemetery in Ann Arbor?
A. The oldest headstone, in Terhune Pioneer Cemetery near Packard, commemorates young Emily Whitmore, who was buried in 1825. However, there are no bodies in this public park-the headstones were moved from the now-lost Pittsfield Township Cemetery nearby.
The original Ann Arbor Cemetery is now Felch Park, the wooded lot in front of Power Center. George W. Noyes, who died in a house-raising accident in 1826, is believed to have been the first person buried there, but his and the other bodies were moved to Forest Hill Cemetery after it opened in 1859.
That leaves two slightly younger cemeteries to compete for "oldest" honors. Fairview, off Pontiac Trail, saw its first burial in 1833. The first burial in Bethlehem Cemetery, off Jackson Road west of I-94, was in 1833 or 1834.
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[Originally published in February, 2009.]
On February 22, 2009, Clan Crawford, Jr. wrote:
The item about the pioneer cemetery brings back memories going back to about 1953. At that time the cemetery was part of a large tract of unused farmland. The owner wanted to build houses on it. The property was not yet in the city so he persuaded Pittsfield Twp. officials to petition the circuit court for a judgment vacating the cemetery. Such a petition was allowed by a statute covering abandonment and prescribing the moving of the graves. Township attorney Arthur Lehman appeared at the hearing with a plan for the abandonment and was greatly surprised to find that there was opposition. In walked prominent local attorney and U-M regent Roscoe O. Bonisteel, followed by a young lawyer employed in his office, me, and about 25 women, members of the Sarah Caswell Angell Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Their story was that along about 1900, when the cemetery was in a state of neglect, the farmer that owned it piled up the headstones in a corner and tilled the land.
Among those buried there, with Emily Whitmore, the first paleface to die in Washtenaw County, was John Terhune, a veteran of the revolutionary army. Many years later, about 1938 if I remember right, the DAR arranged for a stone wall about 18 inches high to be built in a square about 20 feet on a side. The headstones of John Terhune and Emily, and, I think, one other, were placed inside the wall. Nobody seemed to know the exact site of the graves. A teacher at Ypsilanti High School organized a group of students each June to go out with him and cut the weeds and pick up any trash. The DAR did not want this site disturbed. When judge James R. Breakey, Jr. heard this he decided to put the matter over for a couple of months to see if some settlement could be reached.
After that, Mr. Bonisteel turned the matter over to me. When the matter came up, there had been no settlement and the judge took a break and asked me and Arthur Lehman to come to his chambers. We did. Lehman's pitch was 'Ya can't stop progress" and I said "Breathes there a man with soul so dead…" Then we all laughed for a few minutes and the judge put the matter over again. There was a problem in that nobody knew where the bodies were.
If I remember right there was another hearing. However it was announced that Bert Smokler had bought the land and would leave the cemetery intact, and the petition was withdrawn. Smokler then built the Forestbrooke subdivision and named one of the streets Terhune Rd.