Efforts made to restore Waskom Cemetery


The poor condition of a historic pioneer cemetery in the southern part of Jackson County has prompted a Michigan man to put together a plan to bring it back to life.

The effort to restore and preserve Waskom Cemetery is going to take the collaboration of several local groups and more than $31,000.

Doug Schmutte of Eau Claire, Michigan, formerly of Indianapolis, is spearheading the effort because his ancestors are laid to rest there. He is seeking financial assistance for the restoration.

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Waskom Cemetery, also known as Pleasant Grove Cemetery, is located southwest of Tampico in Grassy Fork Township. It lies on land just north of county roads 700S and 560E on top of a hill. The owners of the property surrounding the cemetery are the Elliotts.

It is the final resting place for many veterans, including those from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War.

The cemetery is in bad shape with broken headstones and fallen trees, and there also is an old lane completely overgrown with trees between it and the Sturgeon cemetery.

“Many of the pioneers that settled Jackson County are buried there, such as David Sturgeon, who married a Waskom,” Schmutte said. “Also, my third great-grandfather, Joseph Waskom; Hezekiah Applegate and his father, Samuel; and my third great-grandfather by marriage, Jacob Young.”

Schmutte said Young was a Revolutionary War hero who also was President Harry Truman’s great-grandfather.

“My second cousin, Darrell Scifres, is a member of Sons of the American Revolution in Scottsburg,” Schmutte said. “He got the SAR to replace the stone for Jacob Young, our fifth grandfather.”

A grave marking service was conducted June 20, 2009, and a new headstone was placed on Young’s grave.

The only living member of Schmutte’s immediate family in the Jackson County area is Vera Sparrow, 96, who lives in Scottsburg and used to own a beauty shop there.

“My grandmother, Nellie Waskom Deeds, grew up in Vallonia and is buried in Driftwood Cemetery on State Road 135 just south of Vallonia with her parents and siblings,” Schmutte said. “Her father, Michael Waskom, died in 1927 and was the Driftwood Township trustee and a schoolteacher in Vallonia.”

Along with Applegate, Sturgeon, Waskom and Young, some other family names of those buried at the cemetery are Burdsall, Doerr, Keller, Passwater, Pfaffenberger, Steinkamp, Thompson and more.

“The Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution stated they may be able to apply for a grant to help with the restoration,” Schmutte said. “But it would not be approved until next year.”

Schmutte reached out to Rich Green of Historic Archaeological Research in Brownstown to let him know of his interest in restoring the cemetery.

Green is familiar with Waskom Cemetery, and the grounds are in a state of ruin with many of the monuments badly damaged or unstable.

“This site consists of the several hundred graves of Jackson County pioneers, many of whom were veterans of North American conflicts spanning from the Revolutionary War through both World Wars,” Green said.

After inspecting the property, Green told Schmutte the scope of work required to restore a cemetery of that size, condition and remote location will be very costly.

He also said the repairs will most certainly require a team of professional restorationists.

“There are historic preservation grants available for this purpose; however, these typically require sponsorship by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and matching funds,” Green said. “The cemetery has deteriorated badly, and it is a shame to see the last resting place of our veterans and the ancestors of fellow Jackson County citizens in such a sad state of disrepair.”

Green said restoration of the cemetery is a worthwhile cause, but he is certain it will require a great deal of cooperation by Jackson County civic organizations and citizens to accomplish.

Parke Hackman, Grassy Fork Township trustee and the current steward of the property, recently visited the cemetery, too.

“We mow the grass at Waskom Cemetery and maintain the grounds, but it’s hard to get to,” Hackman said. “We have a contract with someone who mows the cemetery, and there are about five cemeteries within the township that we have mowed.”

Hackman said there are certain occasions when he makes sure the grass is mowed, too, such as Memorial Day.

“After spring storms, the contractor will go in and we’ll cut the limbs and any trees that have fallen down,” Hackman said. “Then we have to allocate some more funds to pay for him for that.”

Hackman said his board would be able to appropriate some funds to start the restoration project.

“My plan is to go to the advisory board and suggest to them that we allocate a certain amount of money each year,” Hackman said. “Maybe over the next four or five years, we could do that.”

Hackman said he will check with people he knows on the county council to see if the county can appropriate any additional funds, and his hopes are that other organizations or individuals will want to donate, too.

Schmutte received a couple of cost estimates for the total restoration of all stones in Waskom Cemetery, which amounted to around $31,200.

Green said there are state historic preservation grants available for this kind of work, but they typically require 50% in matching funds.

“On a project this size and scope that has a $30,000 estimate, it is critical to garner support from many different sources,” Green said. “It is in my opinion that besides help from the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution and Grassy Fork Township, additional support is needed.”

He said it will be necessary to receive support from other civic groups, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, and perhaps from private donors to come up with adequate matching funds and that this may take several seasons to accomplish.

According to a story in the June 30, 1966, edition of The Tribune, Waskom Cemetery was formed from land given by its owner, Isaac Burge, to Gabriel Woodmansee, Hesekiah Applegate and William Morgan, trustees of the Baptist Society, called Enon Church, situated near the mouth of the Grassy Fork of Muscatatuck. That transfer was recorded in the deed record book of the Jackson County recorder. It was dated June 7, 1829.

Schmutte has created a Facebook group that anyone can request to join called Waskom Cemetery Restoration Project to learn more about the restoration.

Anyone interested in helping fund the Waskom Cemetery restoration may contact Parke Hackman at 812-216-3228.

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Find a grave at Waskom Cemetery: findagrave.com/cemetery/87297/waskom-cemetery

Indiana Pioneer Cemetery Restoration Project: facebook.com/groups/113288322054261


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