VETO - Legends abound about the history of a cluster of small headstones overlooking Veto Lake in Dunham Township.
Most of the 14 or so stones represent deaths ranging from 1815 to 1884 and most bear the surname Hopkins, making it one of two Hopkins cemeteries in the township. However, there is some debate as to where the headstones were initially located.
"There's actually one cemetery that's under Veto Lake," said Catherine Sams, a member of Washington County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society.
Photo by Jasmine Rogers
Belpre Historical Society secretary, curator and genealogist Charlotte Powell offered to house the tombstone of her third great grandfather at the historical society. The stone was thought to be the last one in existence from the small family cemetery overlooking Veto Lake. However, just over a dozen stones still overlook the lake.
According to stories Sams gathered from local residents, the cluster of headstones had once been located where the lake now is. Residents told Sams that as the lake building project moved forward in the late 1940s or early 1950s, the stones were haphazardly moved to the top of the embankment, but the bodies were never disinterred.
For decades, the Ohio Genealogical Society planned on relocating the stones away from the private property on which they had been scattered. In 1989, the owner of the property allowed members of OGS to come and take grave readings.
But soon after, the property changed hands and the new owner told the OGS he had broken up the stones and used them for gravel in his driveway.
"There was actually one tombstone that was not destroyed," said Sams.
The stone Sams is referring to marked the final resting place of Freeman Hopkins, who died in 1858, and is now housed at the Belpre Historical Society.
Charlotte Powell, the secretary, curator and genealogist at the museum explained how she came upon it.
"I went to a presentation and the presenter kept talking about this person. Well, he was my third great grandfather," said Powell, 70, of Little Hocking.
Powell spoke up and found that the presenter had "liberated" the stone from the small Hopkins cemetery sometime in the 1980s before the property owner claimed to have destroyed everything. It was the presenters' third great grandfather as well, said Powell.
"I said, 'Well we'll give it a home at the Belpre Historical Society,'" she recalled.
The stone is now preserved among a row of similar headstones.
However, the claim of destruction from the old property owner proved to be a bluff.
"The stones are still there," said Nick Huffman, 32, who owns the property.
As to the original location of the stones, stories are mixed.
Dale Devore, 83, of Belpre, worked on the lake construction in the 1950s. Devore said he has no recollection of anyone needing to move a cemetery.
And Dunham Township Trustee Ben Elder said he also remembers the lake construction process, but not a cemetery at the bottom.
"They wouldn't have buried somebody where it flooded every year or two," said Elder.
However, it seems apparent that the stones' current location was not their original one.
Dunham Township Trustee Kenneth Maze said he remembers hearing legends of a cemetery at the bottom of the lake.
And Huffman said he would not be surprised.
"That's pretty believable because they're not really arranged in any fashion," he said.