PALMER TWP. - The first groundbreaking in a cemetery is never a happy story, but for Gard Cemetery, the first cemetery in Palmer Township, it is a particularly tragic tale.
Located down a long township road off Ohio 676, the cemetery is named for 6-month-old Jane Gard who died in 1817 and was the first person to be buried there, said Palmer Township resident and retired teacher Sally Hale.
"They were cooking, and she pulled a kettle of scalding water onto herself and died of the burns," said Hale.
Gard's eccentric gravestone was lovingly carved by hand. Though a few letters are carved backwards and some words run out of space and have been continued on another line, it can still be read:
Jane gard Was
The 25 1817
Died Sept The
14 1817 Daught
Two plots away lies Gard's grandfather, Cornelius Gard, the fourth settler in the township. In fact, Gard Cemetery is the final resting place of most of the early settlers of Palmer Township, including the township's namesake, Joseph Palmer Sr., said Hale.
"It was once said that it is rare that one sees a graveyard so filled with patriarchs and pioneers of a community," she added.
Hale, who is actually a descendant of Palmer, said he settled the area in 1802 after he purchased 160 acres of land from another nearby settler, Ephraim Cutler. Palmer, along with his wife and six children, migrated from Connecticut where Palmer had served in the Connecticut militia during the Revolutionary War.
Palmer is not the only soldier in the cemetery. His sons Jabish and Benjamin served in the War of 1812, though their service lasted just over a week before the war ended, said Hale. The cemetery is also home to six Civil War soldiers, said Scott Britton, executive director of The Castle and local historian.
The Palmer family was responsible for many significant milestones in the community. Shortly after settling, Palmer's seventh child became the second to be born in the area. In 1804, he built the area's first school. Though it went through several incarnations, Palmer School remained open until 1959.
"I attended it. I went there for seven years," said Hale.
Palmer was the first Justice of the Peace in the area. In 1807, Palmer was chosen to serve Washington County in the legislature. The next year, his oldest son, Joseph Palmer Jr. was the first person to get married in the community.
Hale still lives on the land, though not the house, once inhabited by Joseph Jr. Years ago, when cleaning out her attic, she stumbled upon an interesting piece of memorabilia.
"It is a program from the centennial in 1902. My grandma was there and she must have saved this," she said.
The program recaps much of the history of the early settlement, including the role of the Palmer family.
Gard Cemetery is spread out over a large area. Though it's home to nearly 300 graves, much of the tract is left open. The cemetery is still used, though infrequently. The last burial was in 2004, said Hale.
Though mowed frequently, some of the trees have began to take over, lifting headstones off of the ground and hiding others from view entirely.
Hale is also in the process of trying to get a new headstone for Joseph Sr.'s grave, and is still researching a primary source of proof of his service in the American Revolution.
Many soldiers' records are housed in the towns they lived in when they enlisted, said Jean Yost, president of the Marietta chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.