JUNE 2016: 200 YEARS OF UNION PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Last month I discussed the small cemetery across the road with the single monument in the center belonging to Union Presbyterian Church. This month I am going to talk about the larger one along 472 which, unknown to many, is NOT affiliated with Union Church, even though most of its founders were members here. By the 1850's the old church cemetery had about 140 burials and was obviously not going to be large enough for a growing congregation.
But the biggest problem was the decrepit condition that it had been allowed to fall into. A group of men who felt the church was not doing enough to solve the problem decided to take things into their own hands and pooled their resources and purchased a parcel of ground from the adjoining farm. Over the following 150 years additional purchases and swaps would bring the cemetery to its current size of 9.7 acres. Only about 4 are currently in use. The grass field clear up to the Amish school, and ground well out into the corn fields of the adjoining farm are cemetery property. The Amish mow the grass in the field in exchange for use of the ball fields.
While the current Association operating the cemetery is a 401-C11 non-profit organization run by 12 volunteer directors, it actually started out as a for-profit corporation. It was never very profitable and in fact in the mid 1900's was nearly broke. A dedicated group of directors has managed to turn its fortune around and it now has equity reserve of over $100,000 to help guarantee its long term care. Many of the people who currently serve as directors are descendants of the original founders. Being adjacent to the church certainly promotes the belief that it is church property and in fact the church and the cemetery association once ended up in court on opposite sides of a debate over a donation in someone’s will simply identified as for Union Presbyterian Cemetery. UPC argued it was intended for the upkeep of the old cemetery across the road, and Union Cemetery Association arguing that it was indeed intended for the cemetery where the donor was in fact buried. Because it is not a church owned facility there are burials there from a large area, especially a lot from Oxford who want to spend more time out in the country. Obviously, walking through the cemetery reading tombstones doesn't seem like a fun way to spend a day, but many interesting things can be found. For instance, one family had their first three children stillborn. Then they had three more. They all lived to be over 100. There is a Thomas Ferguson there from 1810 and another from 2010.There are Hervey Ferguson's from 1830 to 2000. Cromwell Blackburn is there. He came from a strong Quaker family. His father married a Quaker girl but the service was performed in a Baptist church. He was promptly notified that he was no longer a Quaker and became one of Unions first trustees. Of all the ministers Union has had over the years, only one, Reverend Thomas Kerr is buried in the cemetery. He served here from 1925-1931 and started the homecoming tradition here and also was the driving force behind the organ acquisition. An amusing fact is that while the cemetery was founded out of dissatisfaction with how Union Presbyterian Church managed its own cemetery, in order to obtain its non-profit status a few years ago it had to legally designate a successor to its assets should it dissolve. The cemetery had to come slinking back to Union Presbyterian Church for permission to designate them before approval could be granted. And now you know the rest of the story.