Historically Speaking



American flag at the entrance of Blockhouse Cemeteries

Before going forward with my planned article this week, I want to thank once again Leggett Contracting owners, Ray and Jennifer Leggett along with C. J. Robinson, and Charles Frey, for finding a way to get our solar-lit flagpole and flag erected in honor of the many Veterans buried on these hallowed grounds before Memorial Day.  They worked on it after putting in their usual hard days of work in order to make it happen.  I am so proud of the fine work they did. You should stop in to see it sometime.  A new sign listing the individual cemeteries is currently in the works.

 L-R: C. J. Robinson, Jennifer Leggett, Ray Leggett, & Charles Frey

Now, For Our Article:

I was recently asked a commonly asked question on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/doddridgecountyhistoricalsociety regarding the name, “Blockhouse Hill Cemetery.”  This individual was very polite as she wrote that she was of the understanding that the upper section of the cemetery, as shown in the above photograph, was called I.O.O.F. Cemetery.  She was, of course, absolutely correct in that assumption.   

With the renewed interest in the formation of the cemeteries of Blockhouse Hill since the erection of our beautiful American flag, I felt inclined to update a previous article on it.  

There has always been a little confusion surrounding the ownership and boundaries of the 5+ cemeteries on Blockhouse Hill.  Because of this, extensive research was done by Tammy Beamer, owner of this newspaper, and I’m honored to say a friend of mine.  She has studied the legal documents and conducted a detailed ground study of the cemeteries for the Doddridge County Historical Society, a registered WV 501 (c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation.

First and foremost, there has not been any legal document found of record indicating there was a cemetery named the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery.  

The Arial drone photograph below, taken by my son, professional drone pilot, and actual helicopter pilot, Harlen Harris, does give an idea of the boundaries and how these cemeteries lay.

Arial view of cemeteries making up Blockhouse Hill Cemeteries.

By far the largest cemetery is the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, otherwise known as the I.O.O.F. Cemetery.  It makes up everything above the cemetery road and all that is down to the row of trees on the left side of the photo.  

Below that is the Catholic Cemetery, where one acre of ground was deeded to Bishop Richard of Wheeling in 1853 by Ephraim Bee.  This was the beginning of the Catholic Cemetery.  I contacted the Catholic Diocese in Wheeling and was able to convince them to survey their portion of the Cemetery and mark their boundary.  He also brought us other documents he thought might be beneficial to our study, for which we were grateful.  The survey marks are easily visible to anyone interested in them.

There are deeds to The Catholic Diocese for two tracts of the land for the same purpose.  These records indicate that a private, almost adjoining section of landowners to the Catholic Cemetery dedicated by deed for public use, 42 surveyed lots of substantial size, not grave spaces, for burial.  

Then, we come to the break of the hill and so begins that which belongs to the Seventh Day Baptist.  We found that this tract of land on the western edge of what is known as Blockhouse Hill, was deeded to the Seventh Day Baptist Church for their Cemetery.  This cemetery is sometimes referred to as the “Old Pioneer Cemetery.”

According to a Woman’s Civic Club booklet, the land was deeded to the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Middle Island by Joseph Davis in 1824. It was said that there was a log church there until a violent storm blew it down in 1833.  The first person buried in this cemetery was Peggy Ethelbert, who moved here from Salem, NJ. 

The Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery in the early days. Notice the white picketed fence… beautiful!

In conclusion, we learned from that single deed; the I.O.O.F. Cemetery’s various branches began to sprout. These unmapped branches were given various legal descriptions including The New Addition of the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, the Upper Addition of the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, and The Second Addition, along with other names. Over 150 lots/grave spaces have been sold from the I.O.O.F. Cemeteries, with double numbering found to have taken place.

     Strips of land were also sold and believed to have been used for burials. Upon completion of the identification of the I.O.O.F. sections, another study is planned to commence confirming if any were named cemeteries. 

     While some of the deeds have been found of record to convey these lots, a great number of the deeds were not placed of record and as yet, none of the additions have been found to have a survey map of record.

     The landowner also deeded a small triangular tract of land between his grave lots and the Catholic Cemetery to the Civic Club Group to use for the upkeep of the I.O.O.F. Cemetery/Cemeteries.  It is believed the Woman’s Civic Club is long gone and this deed did not name any people as members of the group.  Although it is to be noted the local I.O.O.F group would be considered a Civics Club, the I.O.O.F. disbanded in this area in 1983.

     Also included is a deed for a small tract of land, to the Trustees of the Protestant Cemeteries, with a shed believed to be used by women of the community to store tools for the upkeep of the cemeteries. The Protestant Cemetery is believed not to contain actual burials and has also been located on a legal survey map.

     One family member of Agnes Farr, named as a Trustee, remembers going to the Cemetery with her Great Grandmother to trim the grass at the Cemetery. She said that she remembered the trees (now gone) that lined the road into the cemetery. 

    Also remembered by various people who have come forward is a man who would be present on Decoration/Memorial Day to collect funds for mowing the various graves.

Some ‘old’ stories have been conveyed about the Cemeteries of Blockhouse Hill including the “underhanded” funeral director who would resell grave lots that had been previously used but did not have a tombstone and bury the second person in the same grave. This led to one funeral director that persons would remember today, requiring the family of the deceased person to physically visit the Cemetery and confirm that the lot to be used for burial was the correct lot before the graves were dug.

     Another rumor is that paupers were buried by the county in the roadway along with grave spaces being sold for burials in the roads. After comparing the existing map to the ground evidence, it is believed that these burials may have been made in the deeded roadway between the lots noted in the survey map and not the current roadway.

     One thing that has been questioned, every grave that has been examined at this time has a North/South direction in the time period when people believed their graves should be in the East/West direction with their feet and face pointing to the east. It is believed the reason for the North/South burials was to maximize the number of graves in this location and the property’s slope.

So, if you come by the Cemeteries of Blockhouse Hill and happen to see people with laptops, GPS units, cameras, flags, and tape measures, it’s just the members of the Doddridge County Historical Society unraveling mysteries from the past.

God Bless

Patricia Richards Harris, President

Doddridge County Historical Society

Phone:  304 873-1540, Cell:  304 266-1291

Email:  [email protected]