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By Vanessa Burkhart
Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter, National Society
of the Daughters of the American Revolution
Bell Cemetery, a small and historic pioneer burial ground on Epler Avenue close to State Road 37, has been partially restored and was dedicated Sunday.
The ongoing project, spearheaded by preservationists Bob Alloway and Brad Manzenberger, has been under way for two years.
The ceremony also included the dedication of the cemetery’s heritage sign, which indicates that the graveyard is listed as historic on the Cemetery and Burial Grounds Registry of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The burial sites of two veterans from the War of 1812, three from the Civil War and one from World War I were decorated with floral wreaths placed by the Children of the American Revolution. A memorial garden – the service project of Eagle Scout candidate Keegan Dehner – was also dedicated.
Hosted by the Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and the Perry Township trustee office, the event attracted more than 100 people.
Special guests included Trustee Daniel Moriarty, Deputy Trustee Judi Johnson-Stevens, members of the Perry Township Board and numerous representatives from genealogical and historical organizations: Jeanie Hornung, Victoria Vorhis, JoAn Nichols, Jayne Hoffman, Wayne Eells, Michaela Eells and Sarah M. Halter.
The Indiana Society of the Sons of the American Revolution served as the color guard, with Tim Beckman and Scott Sholty representing the Civil War era while providing a gun salute. Kevin Waldroup, president of the Indiana Society of the War of 1812, brought greetings to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and placed bronze markers on the graves of the War of 1812 veterans.
Moriarty presented plaques of appreciation to the Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter. Moriarty also gave a brief history of the township, and chapter members Kay Nickey and Barbara Barnes presented summaries of the restoration process and genealogy research project.
A team of chapter members under the leadership of Barnes traced and recorded the genealogy of the 70-plus people buried in the cemetery, which is about 165 years old. QR codes, which can be scanned on smartphones, were set up to provide visitors on-site access to genealogy.
Joseph Fuller, commander of American Legion Post 4, played “Taps” to conclude the program.
Read more about the cemetery’s history at www.southsidervoice.com.
History of Bell Cemetery
Barbara Cook Barnes
Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter, NSDAR
Bell Cemetery is a small cemetery located in Perry Township, Marion County, Indiana. It is on the south side of metropolitan Indianapolis, at the intersection of State Road 37 (which goes to Bloomington) and Epler Avenue, and very close to the Johnson county line. In the past, the nearest town was Southport. Until the mid-twentieth century, this Township of Marion County was predominantly rural and agricultural. The cemetery is about 165 years old, and served the local residents, including families that later moved to either Indianapolis or Johnson County. The population of this cemetery is representative of the early citizens of Perry Township.
The first plats of land were purchased by pioneers in the 1820s, and the township continued to grow from that point on. Early plat maps show names of owners whose names appear on tombstones in the Bell Cemetery. This cemetery is located on property that in early years belonged to the Bell family. A number of Bell family members are buried here, but the rest are buried in Round Hill Cemetery, or the Mundy Cemetery. At one time there was a nearby church, but the exact location and denomination of this church are in question. There may be tombstones that have yet to be unearthed. There is some possibility that widening of Epler Avenue or flooding may have damaged or obliterated a few burials.
The population of this area was similar to the demographic mix of most of the Central Indiana pioneers. Almost all were native-born Americans. Some had been born in Indiana in the early years of the state. Many had already settled in Southern Indiana before moving north to Marion County. They tended to come from Kentucky or Virginia. Others had been in Ohio prior to their move and were predominately from Pennsylvania and Virginia, with a few New Englanders in the mix. They were Protestants, principally Baptists, Methodists or Independents. Most of the men were farmers or laborers. A number of them were descendants of soldiers of the American Revolution. The neighbors’ children married each other. Their grandchildren married other close neighbors, so that after several generations there is a web of kinships in the neighborhood. These kinship ties can be seen when reading the gravestones in Bell Cemetery.
One family in particular, the Bristow family, is a good example of a multi-generation interconnected family. They are the patriarch and matriarch of the family, born in the late 18th Century, Payton and Mary Bristow, both grandchildren of Revolutionary War soldiers. Payton is a War of 1812 veteran. He is buried near his spouse, children, grandchildren, and daughters-in-law. The other ancestors of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren were mostly neighbors.
There are six known burials of veterans in the cemetery; two from the War of 1812, three from the Civil War, and one from World War I.
The ages of the deceased vary from the very old to the newborn. Payton Bristow is the oldest, being born in 1778 and dying in 1869. The earliest known burial is either Clarence R. Clary in 1847 per 1941 reading and genealogy or in 1848, Delaura Jane Bell, who was about two years old. The last burial is 1947, Phillip W. Adams, a month-old baby, who was also a descendant of early pioneers. There are about 10 infants, small children, school-age children and teenagers buried in the cemetery, as well as several young women, who probably died in child-birth.
Prominent pioneer families, the Bells, Bristows, Clarys, Suttons, Rileys, Myers and Pearsons, along with others settled here in the area east of the White River in the early years of Perry Township. Early plat maps for the area show the names of owners whose names appear on tombstones in Bell Cemetery.
Restoration of the cemetery was a two year process, which is ongoing and is the result of a collaboration between the Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter, NSDAR historic Preservation Committee, community volunteers, and the expertise of cemetery preservationists Bob Alloway and Brad Manzenberger.
Descendants of those buried in the cemetery were invited to celebrate the restoration of the cemetery and to share family histories and genealogy. Perry Township pioneers James Madison Myers, Peyton and Henry Bristow were present. Descendants expressed how happy they were that the project was undertaken and will continue to completion. Special photographs were taken of the descendants at their ancestors graves.
Members of the Clarence Cook Chapter INSSAR served as color guard with Tim Beckman, Sons of Union Veterans, and Scott Sholty, 19th Indiana Regular Infantry representing the Civil War, providing a gun salute. Kevin Waldroup, President of the Society of the War of 1812 in the State of Indiana brought greetings on the anniversary of the writing of the Star- Spangled Banner and placed bronze markers on the graves of two War of 1812 veterans.
A team of Caroline Scott Harrison chapter members under the leadership of Barbara Barnes, traced and recorded the genealogy of all buried in the cemetery, over 70 individuals. A QR code was set up to provide cemetery visitors access to the genealogy on site, a novel and exciting way to use technology. The information is now on the Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter website and is also planned for a permanent QR-code sign at the cemetery.