Approaching his 60th birthday in 1931, Franklin A. Burkhardt returned to the woods and fields of Shawnee Township where he had played as a boy. Burkhardt, a former mayor of Lima (1919-21) versed in the township’s history, was writing a story for the Lima News on the Quilna trail, which connected the Indian villages of Shawneetown, which stood near the intersection of Shawnee and Fort Amanda roads, and Wapakoneta.
As a boy, Burkhardt wrote, he could recall peering down traces of the trail and seeing “oak and elm in sentinel-like array on either side.”
Much of the virgin forest may have remained at the time Burkhardt wandered the township as a child — he was born in 1872 — but the Shawnee had been gone for decades, forced west in the early 1830s. That same decade, they were replaced by pioneers with familiar family names such as Hover, Bowsher (Burkhardt’s mother was a Bowsher), Reed, Meffley and Mowery, names that today appear on road signs and gravestones. Almost from the moment of their arrival, the pioneers needed places to bury their dead.
One of those early cemeteries was established in 1853 for the congregation that eventually would form Shawnee United Methodist Church. Today, that cemetery is lost to maps and memory, although thousands of area residents pass over the site daily.
To accompany one of his articles, Burkhardt hand-drew a map of early Shawnee Township. It shows Shawneetown to the north as well as Quilna’s trail, while to the south is the looping course of the Little Ottawa River and on its banks the tailor shop of Peter Meffley, the first tailor shop in the county. Meffley died in 1849, followed two years later by his wife, Mary. They are buried in nearby St. Matthew’s Cemetery. The land was acquired by Jacob Mowery who, an 1847 map shows, owned land just north of the Meffley property.
Practicing as a justice of the peace in the area was Derrick Pennypacker Darling, who was born in Virginia in 1811. By 1840, records show, he was solemnizing marriages. He also served the Methodist Episcopal Church as a minister.
A deed recorded in 1853 shows Mowery selling land to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Shawnee Township for the Darling Meeting House as well as land “to be used expressly and solely as a burying grounds to be kept up for that purpose and all who desire it shall have permission to bury their dead in said grave yard.”
“Said grave yard” last appeared on an 1880 map of the county, tucked in on the north bank of the Little Ottawa River adjacent to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and near another former Shawnee trail, parts of which had become the Lima to Wapakoneta road. After that, the cemetery disappears from county maps.
When parts of the Lima to Wapakoneta road became the Dixie Highway, anything that remained of the old cemetery likely disappeared as well. In 1930, an overpass was built on the site to carry the highway over the railroad and the Little Ottawa River.
Although no tombstones were found during construction and nothing was mentioned in newspapers at the time, some residents who used dirt from the construction site to fill in around their houses reportedly smelled the stench of decay in the air.
Meanwhile, with the death of Darling in the late 1850s, the Methodist congregation became known as the Breese Class, meeting in a schoolhouse. During the Civil War, a particularly impassioned anti-slavery speech by the group’s leader, the Rev. Leroy A. Belt, produced a bit of inspired vandalism by some of the area’s southern sympathizers, who turned skunks loose in the school.
This, in turn, inspired Belt to call for the construction of a church. In September 1864, Lima’s Daily Democratic Times announced, “Shawnee Chapel, a new M.E. Church erected in Shawnee Township beside the Shawnee graveyard near the junction of little and big Hog Creek, will be dedicated Sabbath, Sept. 11, 1864.”
The first burial of a pioneer in what would become Shawnee Cemetery took place in July 1832, when 5-year-old Thomas Reed, the son of Benjamin and Jane Decoursey Reed, was laid to rest. Before the pioneers, the Hog Creek Shawnee, whose town was nearby, had buried their dead in the area close to the Little Ottawa River.
Benjamin Reed, according to an 1896 compilation of local biographies, was born in Pennsylvania in 1789 and, like many pioneers, arrived in Shawnee Township via Trumbull County. Reed, the biography noted, “made the entire trip from Trumbull County by means of wagons, reaching the old Shawnee council house on Sunday, April 10, 1833.”
In 1851, Reed sold part of his holdings to Isaac Bowsher, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1798. Justice of the peace Darling oversaw the transaction.
In a history of the Bowsher family, Burkhardt, whose wife was related to Isaac Bowsher, described the land.
“The home was a beautiful place, Little Hog Creek flowing nearby with a wealth of great walnut trees along its banks and the uplands were covered with heavy timber where the ax had not done its work.” Burkhardt wrote. “The Indian village of the Shawnees was adjacent to the farm and for years after, the giant apple trees of the Indian orchard stood, doubtless the product of the generosity of ‘Johnny Appleseed,’ The old Indian trail leading to the Indian village on the Benjamin Bowsher farm and to Wapakoneta passed through the timber tract of Isaac’s farm and could be easily located up to recent years.”
In the same transaction, Bowsher, who died in 1865 and was buried in the nearby cemetery, sold a lot to Ezekiel Hover as well as another acre of land to be used as a graveyard. In 1854, Reed sold an acre of his remaining ground to the trustees of Shawnee Township “for grave yard lot.” Bowsher subsequently sold another 1.5 acres north of the Hover plot to the trustees for use as a cemetery.
Newton Hover would deed over the Hover plot to the trustees of Shawnee Township in 1897.
In 1863, David Hover sold a 45-foot by 62 foot-piece of ground adjacent to the graveyard to Rev. Belt and the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church to build a house of worship.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.