Rededication ceremony held at Pere Cheney Historical Cemetery
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Beaver Creek Township officials, area residents, and Camp Grayling leaders recently gathered at a cemetery to breath new life into the grounds where some of the first settlers of Crawford County were laid to rest.
A rededication of the Pere Cheney Historial Cemetery was held on Wednesday, May 23, just prior to the Memorial Day weekend holiday.
In 1873, George Cheney received a land grant from the Michigan Central Railroad to establish a small town as a stopping point between Gaylord and Jackson. By 1877, the town consisted of a general store, a wagon maker, two carpenters, a doctor, a hotel, a post office, and two sawmills. Settlers and lumbermen arrived and brought the town of Pere Cheney to a population of approximately 1,500.
The town served as the county seat for Crawford County, before it was transferred to Grayling.
Initially known as the Center Plains Cemetery, the Pere Cheney Cemetery was established on five acres in 1878 and located just southeast from where the town of Pere Cheney once stood. Diphtheria spread though the town twice, once in 1893, and again in 1897, leaving only 18 residents by 1917. Pere Cheney went from a bustling lumber center to a ghost town.
A monument, which was donated by the St. Helen Monument Sales, Inc., was unveiled at the rededication ceremony.
“We are here today to rededicate the cemetery because of the gracious donation of this stone from St. Helen Monument to honor the 50 families that are buried here, and to commemorate them with a stone that we hope will remain here for a very long time,” said Beaver Creek Township Supervisor Kim Van Nuck. “It is our hope that the public will come to honor and be respectful of these hallowed grounds that we are here today standing on.”
The history of Pere Cheney is inscribed on the front of the monument.
Fifty families perished in Pere Cheney and are buried in the Pere Cheney Cemetery. Several of their headstones have been vandalized or are unrecognizable from years of deterioration. The family names of those buried in the cemetery are inscribed on the back of the monument.
A color guard from Camp Grayling was on hand at the rededication ceremony.
Four soliders, who served in the Civil War, are buried in the Pere Cheney Cemetery including: James Burton, AM O’Dell, Lowell Fox and Charles Vincent.
Lt. Col. Brian Burrell, the deputy garrison commander at Camp Grayling, served as guest speaker at the ceremony.
“Today, and especially on this Memorial Day, we remember the bravery and valor of men and women whose ultimate sacrifice in the name of country which allows us all to live free today,” Burrell said.
The names listed on the back of the monument are ancestors of families who still live in the community.
“This monument stands as a remembrance to the forbearers of many of the families still living in Beaver Creek and our Civil War veterans,” Burrell said. “It is our hope that the public will come to honor and be respectful of these hallowed grounds that surround us and be reminded that a civilized society honors and safeguards its dead and remembers their sacrifice.”
The Pere Cheney Cemetery was placed on the Michigan State Register of Historical Sites in 1991.
In 2015, former Beaver Creek Township Supervisor Brian Ashton formed a committee to plan for the restoration of the Pere Cheney Cemetery, which has been subjected to years of vandalism and neglect.
“I really feel that if it’s brought back to a respectable state, as opposed to being neglected as it has been for several years, I think people will pay more respect to it,” Ashton said.
Valerie Jones attended the rededication ceremony to honor fallen soliders. Her son, Darrel Jones, died in 1992 while serving with the U.S. Army.
“I just want to honor the people that have gone before us in wars and in the service,” she said.
Jones’ husband, Kenny, who just retired from serving in the U.S. Army, said he had an interest in genealogy and has a great aunt buried in the cemetery.
“I find that very interesting,” he said. “Any time you can honor fellow veterans, it’s just very worthwhile.”
Skip Liberty, who lives near the cemetery, said he appreciated the efforts township officials are putting into the restoration.
“I just thought it would kind of cool be to out here to see all this stuff, because I know they put a lot of work into it to get it going,” he said. “It’s kind of neat and educational on how they do all of this stuff.”
Julie Hill, the sales and production coordinator for St. Helen Monument Sales, Inc., said township officials inquired about getting a historical marker for the cemetery. That option was deemed to be too costly, so the family-owned business decided to donate the headstone for the restoration project.
“We just wanted to help. It’s unique and it’s a historial cemetery,” Hill said. “I know they’re trying to help fix up and it’s nice to able to help out in that fashion.”