Historic cemeteries, especially those that are no longer in operation, typically fall into disrepair. With no maintenance staff or grounds keepers to maintain the property, these long-forgotten cemeteries are simply swallowed up by the landscape around them. But in one community, there is new life in one of these historic cemeteries, thanks to the hard work and dedication of one woman and her family.
Amanda Wells Blackman of Kendallville, IN, along with her parents, Jim and Roselyn Wells of Auburn, IN, have been working to restore the Sawyer Cemetery (also known as the Old Kendallville Cemetery). The project has not been a quick one but rather a show of local dedication to the historic site, one that has spanned 10 years.
Sawyer Cemetery is rather hidden from the world, due in part because of the trees that line the property. The cemetery also sat behind the Dalton Foundry, which had closed in 2009 and was demolished in 2013 for a new yet-to-be-built industrial site. Many of the headstones had been toppled over and vandalized, and the south facing entrance is currently inaccessible and the north facing entrance is collapsing due to the hillside moving after the demolition of the Dalton Foundry which was holding up the hillside. But Blackman and her family worked through the issues and restored all the headstones and are working to build a new entrance, either at the original site or on the northwest side of the property.
There are more than 200 people buried at the Sawyer Cemetery and was established in 1836 by blacksmith John Sawyer when he donated the land after his neighbor’s child, Amos Bixler, died. Amos was the first person buried in the property. John Sawyer would follow in 1845 after contracting pneumonia from hog drive he made on foot from Ohio to Kendallville. Sawyer and his wife, Sharlotte, are buried in the cemetery, along with 26 other family members.
The cemetery was rededicated on June 19 and Blackman is currently selling a book on the history of the cemetery and the people interred. Individuals may also schedule guided tours of cemetery with her.