NEW MATAMORAS - Pioneer Cemetery is a well hidden historical gem in New Matamoras, situated two blocks from the intersection of Ohio 7 and Main Street.
The cemetery was established in 1832. Somewhere in the shift of time and property over the ensuing decades, the cemetery had become situated near a New Matamoras residence.
Although the property owner mows the land, Pioneer Cemetery had become unrecognizable.
Jim Webber, left, member of the Matamoras Area Historical Society, and Robert Riggs, historical society president, survey the cleanup work that Webber assisted with at Pioneer Cemetery. (Photo by Sharon Bopp)
"I'd played in that backyard and didn't know it was there," said Johnny Schmidt, 37, of New Matamoras.
Schmidt, now a fourth-to-sixth-grade teacher and intervention specialist at New Matamoras Elementary School, needn't feel bad about his lack of observation skills.
Jim Webber, 74, of New Matamoras, had no clue either.
"I grew up in that town and didn't even know it was there," Webber said.
Those who are buried at Pioneer Cemetery are among the founding families of New Matamoras.
The village was first settled in 1797 by James Riggs and his sons-in-law, Martin and Anthony Sheets.
In 1846, Stinson Burns and Henry Sheets did the first platting (mapping) of Matamoras, with Adam Cline platting the first addition.
"The tombstones that are standing (at Pioneer Cemetery) date back to the early 1800s," Webber said. "They're mainly for members of the Sheets and Cline family."
"It's all the founding fathers of New Matamoras except for one," Schmidt said. "Burns is buried in Pleasants County, W.Va."
Now those founders can rest easier, thanks to a clean-up that was completed at Pioneer Cemetery over the summer. Webber and his cousin John Miller helped complete the cemetery overhaul.
Work included the pick up and removal of two or three loads of brush around the edges of the cemetery, and the repositioning of several headstones.
"We reset eight or 10 headstones that had been knocked down over the years," Webber said. "Hopefully we reset them to be in the right positions."
Webber said there were a few lone headstones on the river side of the cemetery that they considered moving closer to the others.
"There were other stones back in the brush that you just couldn't see," he added. "We didn't need to move them, just clean the others (in the brush)."
For Webber, it's important that cemeteries be maintained for future generations.
"I think we should all know our history as to where we come from and how we got here," he said.
To make sure his students keep the village's history alive, Schmidt took 22 students from his sixth grade class at Matamoras Elementary School to Pioneer Cemetery in October.
The trip was part of a history experience that included a visit to the nearby Matamoras Area Historical Society.
"Back then, they put an emphasis on the (grave) marker. ...A tombstone was really a way to freeze people in others' memories. It was where you paid your respects," said Schmidt.
Schmidt also talked to students about the high infant mortality rates in the 1800s, when one in four babies died.
As the students noticed two or three children's graves at Pioneer Cemetery, they took note of the names and said "This must have been so and so's relative," said Schmidt.
Plans to put up a historical plaque at Pioneer Cemetery listing the names of those buried there are also under consideration, Webber said.