A Missouri family is seeking to have a dilapidated pioneer-era graveyard in Fall Creek Township refurbished and marked as a cemetery, saying that it contains the remains of their ancestors, some of whom were veterans of the War of 1812.
But in 1973, a developer bought the land that contains the cemetery, and now Brandon and Sonni Lawson, of West Plains, Mo., are asking that the local government step in to help them honor their ancestors’ final resting place since the land is privately owned.
The Lawsons claim that Arthur Beer, the developer, ignored the graveyard while building homes on the property. Resident Rick Dawson now lives in the home located on the land and appears to have ownership over the cemetery.
The Lawsons gave a presentation Wednesday to the Madison County Cemetery Commission, which oversees the refurbishment of cemeteries. Also present at the meeting were Madison County Commissioners John Richwine, Pat Dillon and Paul Wilson, and Fall Creek Township Trustee Michael Hart.
Over the course of their ancestral research, which began four years ago, the Lawsons discovered that remains were located in Madison County. Upon discovering that the graveyard had been developed upon, the couple was “crushed.”
“Why would anybody (develop a cemetery)?” said Brandon Lawson. “We think (the cemetery) was destroyed by greed.”
The Lawsons claim relation to Martin Brown Jr., an early Madison County farmer who moved here from Virginia, and Samuel Hardy Jr., both of whom were purportedly veterans of the War of 1812. The Lawsons say they have at least 10 other relatives buried in the cemetery.
The Lawsons are asking that the cemetery be cordoned off by a fence, that a sign marking the area as the Hardy-Culp cemetery be erected, and that military medals and plaques be placed around the graves. The Lawsons are also asking for a right of way or road giving access to the cemetery.
The headstones of those resting in the graveyard were removed by Beer before he built his development. The headstones are being kept by Cemetery Commissioner Melody Hull.
The right-of-way request may be the sticking point, however. The property is no longer in possession of Fall Creek Township, as discovered at Wednesday’s meeting. Dawson owns all the property, including the graveyard, which abuts a farm property.
“The rights of the property owner must be respected,” said Brandon Lawson.
Without a right of way, the Cemetery Commission can’t even begin to restore the cemetery.
Dawson indicated that he is willing to work with the Lawsons on their quest, but no decisions were made during the meeting. The Lawsons, Hart and Dawson are planning a meeting to further discuss what will be done with the cemetery.
“I have my own concerns about the graves, but I think you’ll find I’m a person of compassion,” said Dawson. “If there’s a way to work this situation out, I’ll go to the ends of the earth to do it.”
Hart said that he learned of this situation “months ago,” but was optimistic about getting the cemetery refurbished.
“I think we can work it out,” he said.
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