History for the Holliday

When the president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society calls on a gorgeous, sunny 70-degree day and offers to help spring you from your office for 20 minutes or so, you accept.

That’s how I wound up driving down Sixth Street in search of the Holliday Cemetery, which Bob Enoch was mowing, as he has done since 1991.

“Welcome to the most beautiful spot in downtown Parkersburg,” he said. And it does take you away a bit to be standing right there at Sixth Street and Gale Avenue on 1 3/4 acres that include a ravine (technically a branch of Silver Run) that disappears down toward the railroad tracks and Little Kanawha. If you look back toward the Ohio, you can catch a glimpse of the Wood County Courthouse’s bell tower, but also the degree to which the area has been developed since the little plot of land was on the outskirts of Parkersburg when the first people were buried there well more than 200 years ago.

Now, most of the stones are gone, damaged or overgrown. But a few remain and are still legible.

Enoch showed me stones from Henry and Sarah Logan, the infant Ann Dils — daughter of H.H. and A. Dils, Rezin Phelps — whose stone features a striking Sons of Temperance emblem, Andrew Bryson, and William Holliday himself — for whom the cemetery is named, but no one seems to quite know why.

He pointed out to me a row of stones that have been reset.

“Those are all from the Civil War,” he said. His best guess is there are approximately 20 Union and two Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

Few of the stones that once stood are still visible, but much of the stone wall that Enoch said was built in the 1930s as part of a Works Progress Administration project is still standing, and two beautiful sycamores at the edge of the plot are on a national registry of trees, according to Enoch.

Vandals and time have taken their toll. And time has been unkind in another way.

Holliday Cemetery sits on land that was part of a claim belonging to Robert Thornton, who transferred it to Alexander Parker. Later, Mary Parker Robinson, Alexander’s daughter, passed it on to five individuals whose families, it seems, had already been using it.

Though there are graves in the cemetery that suggest it was in use before 1800, there is no deed on record until 1854. Until that time, it had been under the ownership of “John J. Jackson, John F. Snodgrass, Beverly Smith, John R. Murdoch and J.M. Stephenson, all of Wood County, Virginia,” according to a newspaper reporter writing in 1984. Descendants of those families may, theoretically, still be part-owners of the land, as there was an agreement written into the deed conveyed to “Henry Logan, Jr., Harden Neal, Samuel Warren, Kenner I. Boreman, H.H. Phelps and Milan Dils of the same county and state,” which said if the property ever ceased to be used as a cemetery “the said piece of land shall revert to the parties of the first part or their heirs or assigns.” Records show the last burial in the cemetery was more than 100 years ago.

Enoch is probably not one of those heirs or assigns, but he and others from the WCHPS have done their best to keep the property in order. With no disrespect meant to the work done by those people, it seems a shame such a significant and beautiful part of the city’s history is so little known and gets only what maintenance they are able to provide.

In the 1950s, Ruth House, the daughter of a historian and author who had taken interest in the Holliday Cemetery, wrote a poem:

“Quietly on the river bank they lie,

and care not what passes by.

Yet had they not led the way

Others would not have come to stay,

To build a street, a bridge, a steeple,

A place with homes for many people.

Thus endeth the saga of the Holliday Cemetery.”

Another 65 years later, I rather hope she wasn’t right.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com