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Cemetery suffers decades of neglect

Tavenner Cemetery is one of Parkersburg’s most historic burying grounds. Originally part of lands owned by Capt. James Neal, who is credited with establishing the first permanent settlement in what is now Wood County in 1885, the grounds were next owned by his son-in-law, Col. Hugh Phelps. Following Phelps’ death in 1823, Col. Thomas Tavenner purchased his properties, including the cemetery. There are several Tavenners buried in the cemetery.

Neal, who died in 1821, was originally buried at this cemetery; his remains were later moved to Mt. Olivet. The remains of Hugh Phelps and his wife Hannah are at Tavenner Cemetery. In 2009 the historical society placed new stones, duplicates of the originals, on Hugh and Hannah’s gravesites.

Like too many cemeteries throughout the county (and state), Tavenner has a history of being neglected.

Apparently it was unkempt in 1902, causing Judge L.N. Tavenner to appoint trustees whose job it was to “make a real cemetery out of what is now a briar patch. The committee also plans to enclose the grounds with a neat fence.”

The commitment of the appointed trustees didn’t last. When early historian and genealogist John House visited the cemetery in 1914 the following is how he described the condition of the Tavenner portion: “the graveyard lot is about a half acre, surrounded by an old ‘shackling barbwire’ fence, with old plank bars for a gate, and graves and walks all overgrown with weeds and briars.”

Long-term care still eluded Tavenner Cemetery. A headline, with a photo in the Oct. 1, 1950 edition of the Parkersburg News reads: Old Burying Ground Is Now (an) Eye-Sore. Group formed to Renovate Tavennerville Cemetery. This movement resulted in the cemetery being surveyed and the formation of The Tavenner Cemetery Association.

However, as the photo and caption above attests, the cemetery still did not receive regular care.

Ten years ago the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society adopted the long-neglected cemetery. In addition to being mowed weekly, the Tavenner Cemetery Association was “revived,” new fencing and steps from Camden Avenue installed, Capt. James Neal’s original “tablet” gravestone was found, and new stones were placed on Hugh and Hannah Phelps graves. Additionally, the Capt. Robert Ellison Chapter of Colonial Dames placed a historic sign and had a beautiful flagpole installed.

Tavenner Cemetery is an adjunct of the nearby Phelps-Tavenner house that the historical society recently obtained and in which they are creating a research center.

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The Wood County Historical Society works to preserve yesterday for tomorrow. For more information, contact P.O. Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102

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