HOAGLAND – On a small sliver of land, surrounded by a ring of trees along a gravel road just outside of Hoagland, Pleasant Valley Cemetery exists in the middle of nowhere.
And it has been forgotten there, as well.
Many of the cemetery’s dozen or so gravestones have long ago been broken into pieces, eroded into smooth slabs of rock or disappeared into the ground altogether.
Large tires, jagged pillars of concrete and an assortment of other trash or garbage – from Styrofoam to paper – have been chucked or dumped onto the grounds.
Pictures of Pleasant Valley are what greeted Randy Deitering when he began tracing his family’s genealogy on his computer in South Carolina and found some of his descendants buried there.
I didn’t expect that, said Deitering, whose mother and other relatives still live in the area, of the photos. I think those pillars were the cemetery boundary posts, and they were just tossed right on top of the graves.
I couldn’t understand it, he said.
Pleasant Valley is by no means the only forgotten or abandoned cemetery in Indiana, but it does raise the question of who is responsible – if anyone – for taking care of these forgotten graves.
State law mandates that township trustees – who are usually in charge of providing fire protection, relief for the poor and weed assessments among other duties – must care for such cemeteries.
But when reached for comment about Pleasant Valley, the current trustee in the cemetery’s area said he’s never been approached or told to take care of or try to restore the grounds.
If it fell under our jurisdiction, it would be taken care of, said Troy McDonald, who is serving his third term as Madison Township trustee.
According to the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center, at least nine people were buried at Pleasant Valley Cemetery between 1872 and 1926.
Of those nine graves, five belonged to people sharing the name McConaughy, who were Deitering’s ancestors, he said. Others were probably buried there, as well. The website www.findagrave.com – which relies on user submissions – lists 14 graves on the plot.
Some unverified online comments indicate a church may have once stood on the land along with the cemetery. Deitering theorized that the church’s pastor may have died and that the congregation possibly moved to another church after burying him in that very graveyard.
As part of the Allen County Cemetery Project, the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution began documenting all cemeteries in Allen County in 2008.
Upon visiting Pleasant Valley, one of the members wrote on the society’s website:
The cemetery was a disgrace. There is nothing left of the original cemetery. The stones had been removed and placed in piles of other items removed from the cemetery and/or farm field.
Once Deitering found that some of his distant relatives were now resting in what had become a trash heap, he began making phone calls, starting with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR is responsible for taking care of some historic cemeteries, but when officials looked into Pleasant Valley, the department determined that this was not one of them, according to agency spokesman Phil Bloom.
With the applicable state laws in this case, which fall under the care of cemeteries, the authority goes to the township trustee, Bloom said, noting that the DNR has no authority over township trustees.
According to state law, the trustee of each township shall locate and maintain all the cemeteries that do not have funds or are not claimed by a cemetery association.
Indiana law also states the trustee is responsible for resetting and straightening all monuments, leveling or seeding the ground, constructing fences for the cemetery or destroying and cleaning up the grounds.
McDonald, the Madison Township trustee, said he grew up in Hoagland and that Pleasant Valley Cemetery has looked the way it does now since he was a boy.
That one has been abandoned since I’ve known about it, the 48-year-old said. There are a lot of abandoned cemeteries in Allen County.
According to McDonald, trustees before him did nothing for the cemetery.
He was surprised to learn, though, that according to Allen County tax records, care of the grounds for the cemetery is listed as belonging to the Madison Township trustee.
There is one cemetery we’re in charge of, and that’s Massillon, said McDonald, noting a different cemetery within his township.
Indiana law also states that if a trustee fails to perform assigned duties, he or she could be committing a Class C infraction, which carries a fine of up to $500 as punishment upon conviction.
Who would look into whether a trustee is performing his or her duties is not made clear in state law.
Even if it were in his purview, McDonald said, the primary problem with refurbishing Pleasant Valley is where to begin and with what money.
I would want my descendants taken care of, so I understand, he said.
McDonald’s budget is not large, though, he said. According to state law, however, trustees have the power to tax residents for the funds to take care of abandoned cemeteries.
If others were willing to come forward and help, the cemetery could be cleaned up, McDonald said. He would be involved, he said, but acting as an individual and not a trustee.
If I can get a group of individuals who would be interested in taking care of it, I’d be open to that, McDonald said. If a Boy Scout troop wanted to come clean up and earn some badges or something like that, we could make that happen.
When told of that idea, Deitering reiterated that the law is very explicit in who is responsible for such cemeteries.
I don’t want to get into a controversy, I just want him to do his job, Deitering said.