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County cemeteries placed on state historic register

The Indiana Historical Bureau has a program designed to mark cemeteries that are over fifty years old. The IHB is working with the Department of Historic Preservation & Archaeology to insure that when these important cultural resources are identified with Cemetery Heritage Signage, they are also catalogued in the Cemetery and Burial Ground Registry for protection.

This Cemetery Heritage Signage initiative has three purposes: to reinforce the importance of cemeteries as a resource for the interpretation of Indiana’s history; to bring attention to the existence of Indiana’s remaining cemeteries with a visual reminder of their importance; and to assist the many individuals and groups working to preserve and maintain Indiana’s cemeteries through a heightened awareness of their existence and needs.

In 2013 the Cemetery Heritage Sign project in LaGrange County was undertaken by the LaGrange County Heritage Initiative with Jean Fremion-McKibben as project coordinator. To date three county cemeteries have been placed on the register and all have signs to be installed: County Infirmary (Poor Farm) Cemetery – Clay Township, Eagley Cemetery – Van Buren Township, and Pierce-Witmer Cemetery – Johnson Township. Work on all the cemeteries within LaGrange County will continue.

A brief bit of history regarding Pierce Witmer Cemetery:

Captain Stephen King Pierce was born July 21, 1807 in the state of New York. Stephen was the son of Sanford and Olive Greene Pierce – Sanford being born in 1773 in Rhode Island. There were many members of the Pierce family of Rhode Island who served in the Revolutionary War.

Stephen Pierce served his country in the early Native American (Indian) Wars and was noted for his excellent service. Stephen’s first wife, Mehitable Bellows, was purported to be a delicate and frail lady, and upon the advice of their doctor, Stephen moved his family to Northern Indiana in about 1836 – the climate here being better suited to her condition.

Mehitable died on May 20, 1837 at the age of 25 years. Her death is the earliest recorded passing of a white settler in what would become LaGrange County. Stephen buried his beloved wife on his farm and this land would become the Pierce Cemetery (now Pierce Witmer Cemetery). Stephen is buried next to Mehitable and his father, Sanford, is also interred at Pierce Witmer.

Stephen’s headstone is worn so badly that it is unreadable – plans are in place to provide Capt. Pierce with a supplemental headstone in 2015 through the Veterans’ Headstone Project.