Marietta’s First Proclaimed Cemetery
Nestled between the hillside supporting Fort Harmar Drive and the lowland of the railroad track in Harmar lies the bones of some of Marietta’s first settlers. Although there were deaths and burials in Marietta before the opening of Harmar Cemetery in 1796, it is considered Marietta’s first official cemetery. Upon entering through an aged archway supporting the name of the cemetery, the antiquity of many of the tombstones and the general emptiness of unmarked graves truly gives one the feeling of a forgotten time long ago. With over one thousand known burials, over one hundred do not have tombstones or a known location. If you are nostalgic about your final resting place, there is room in this hidden gem for a few hundred more burials.
Walking through any cemetery gives a person a pause to consider one’s own mortality. Especially chilling is the reading on the tombstone of William Thomas Milligan who died in 1853 at the age of 22. The inscription states, “All you take notice as you pass by, As you are now, so once was I.” What a lasting memory for his seven younger brothers and sisters. Funerals, burials, and tombstones provide the living and the dead with a rite of passage of honor and a remembrance that this too shall be the fate of all of us.
All of Those Children
Medical knowledge was limited in the 1800s and Marietta had its share of epidemics with cholera, small pox, and a host of ailments with unknown cures. Disease could ravish a family and no degree of prosperity could save the stricken. Susan Putnam Newton, wife of John Newton of the Marietta Bucket Factory, was the great granddaughter of General Israel Putnam, an early pioneer and famed in the Revolutionary War. In 1845, the first born, John Pascal was an infant when he died. They were then blessed with three more children and an adopted child. In 1852, the entire family was struck with an inflammatory lung disease and death followed. Sons, John Putnam (age 4) and Beman Gates (age 6) died in March followed by their mother, Susan, only days later. Henry, just six months old, died in August of the same year. Only John Newton and their adopted daughter, Margaret Frazier, survived. John took a second wife, Sallie, and the couple had a son, Joseph. Tragically, the son died at four months old and Sallie died of consumption a few months later. Both are buried beside Susan and the other Newton children in Harmar Cemetery. In 1858, John Newton, bought The Castle on Fourth Street and married a third time to a woman who understood the loss of a child. Sadly, it was not unusual for infants and mothers to die due to complications of childbirth or to be susceptible to disease.
Similar stories are plentiful. D. P. Bosworth, of Bosworth & Wells hardware firm, also suffered the loss of two wives, Hannah and Sarah, and four young children. Family plots show multiple tombstones of mothers and children whose deaths occurred within a year. While we can reflect on those tragedies, the heartbreak of husband/father and living children who remained is often forgotten. Interestingly, both John Newton and D. P. Bosworth chose burial for themselves in Mound Cemetery rather than Harmar.
Living To A Ripe Old Age
Although untimely and early deaths may strike us with melancholy, the tombstones of the cemetery also celebrate longevity. It is commonly thought that people today live longer than in the past, but there were many who outlived their children and grandchildren. In 1870, the Marietta Register reported on “The Oldest Inhabitants” in Washington County. Thirty people were ninety years old or more with five who made
the claim of being centenarians. Colonel Augustus Stone died in 1879 just eleven days short of his 99th birthday and Isaac Hutchinson died at 96. Possibly the oldest person in Harmar Cemetery was William Thomas McNutt who died at the age of 105. Bill McNutt was born on October 15, 1872, married Mary A. Rumbold McNutt, and for many years the couple lived at 109 Fearing Street. Bill was a well-known bricklayer and worked until the age of 93. He was the founder of the local chapter of the Bricklayers, Masons, and Plasters International Union of America. He died on January 15, 1977. The unique tombstones for the McNutt family are aptly made out of brick.
As was common in the 19th century, early cemeteries plotted off an area referred to as “Strangers Row or Rest.” It was a section for single grave spaces as distinguished from family plots with multiple burial spaces. These were not necessarily for paupers, but often the sites were inexpensive. This was an option in the case of unexpected deaths, particularly of infants, and for people who had not established family plots. In Harmar Cemetery, Strangers Row is in section one, the oldest portion of the cemetery, where unmarked graves hold the remains of twenty-seven people, with fifteen of those for infants. This section has always been susceptible to flooding. If there were ever wooden or small stone markers, then it is likely that they floated away or decayed.
The First Interments
The earliest grave markers were most often made of sandstone that was quarried and carved locally. With the advent of the Victorian Era arriving in Marietta, headstones sometimes included an epitaph about the person or inscriptions giving the living clues about the deceased. The weather caused the sandstone of early markers to mildew, flake off, crack, and often fall over. As the remains of early citizens
have disappeared into the earth, their sandstone markers, if they had one, have been smoothed flat with time to leave only an “empty slate” standing or broken on the ground. Other markers were made of material that has stood the test of time. In Harmar Cemetery, the first recorded burial and the oldest extant stone is the marker for Joseph Gilman, one of our earliest pioneers, who died in 1806. He and wife, Rebecca, and two boys came from Exeter, NH to Marietta in 1788. Initially, he was Judge of the General Court of the Northwest Territory from 1796 to statehood in 1803 and later was the judge of the Court of Common Pleas. His Son, Benjamin, was known for his shipbuilding business. Gilman Avenue is named after this family.
Other early burials on record are the following: