I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my experiences at some amazing cemeteries over the last six months. And yes, it’s been that long since I started the blog! It’s hard to believe that this will be my 23rd blog post since Adventures in Cemetery Hopping began on January 18.
In light of that milestone, I’d like to share a story about what happens when a cemetery is no longer cared for and becomes a shadow of itself. That’s what has happened to Old Greencastle Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.
My first and only visit to Old Greencastle came just last year when I was back in Dayton for a funeral (ironically so). Thanks to some research on Ancestry.com, I discovered that my paternal great-great-grandparents, Samuel and Margaret Coffman Grice, were buried there.
In 1849, Simon McClure donated three acres of land in West Dayton’s small Greencastle village to Henry Shoup to build a church and burial ground. A one-storey building (Miami Chapel United Brethren Church) was erected on that plot of land the same year. Greencastle Cemetery’s name comes from the “Greencastle Circuit” of the United Brethren churches (a sect from Germany that still exists today) to which the church belonged. The Greencastle plat itself predates 1826 and is one of the oldest in Dayton.
The original Miami Chapel United Brethren Church was torn down in 1912 and replaced with the current church building that remains there, abandoned and boarded up.
Old Greencastle Cemetery is probably the oldest in Dayton. The earliest dated tombstone found in the cemetery was inscribed in 1817, which leads many to believe that the land was used as a family graveyard at one time. Unfortunately, few of the cemetery’s records prior to 1913 exist as many of the cemetery’s records, graves, and gravestones were destroyed during the 1913 Dayton flood. That probably includes Samuel Grice’s grave since he died in 1912. Margaret died in 1919.
Old Greencastle was the original resting place of Otis and Ida Wright (they were twins), brother and sister of the famous Orville and Wilbur Wright. Those graves have since been moved to Woodland Cemetery where the other Wrights are buried, and where several members of my family are buried. Considering the state that Old Greencastle is in now, that was probably a wise decision.
Also within the cemetery are the graves of many Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War. An actual cannon is in the center of them, which was in the best shape among the other sections. One section was reserved for children from the Montgomery County Ohio Children’s Home, which was open from 1867-1928. I did see a few of them while I was hunting.
When I told my Aunt Jo what I had in mind, she chuckled and said, “Really? That’s in a pretty bad part of town now.” She and my mother (her twin) spent their early years living close to that neighborhood before I-75 was built through the middle of it. However, I checked with a fellow Find a Grave volunteer who said while the neighborhood was iffy, nobody bothered the cemetery and the gates were usually open.
Despite her doubts, Aunt Jo was too excited at the prospect of cemetery hopping to stay away. My Mom was also game so we set off no knowing quite what to expect and thinking maybe we should have brought mace.
Old Greencastle is indeed in the ‘hood. But we were there on a Sunday and not much was going on. The few people that did walk or drive by were totally uninterested in us. I can’t help wondering if the residents know not to mess with the dead and give the place a wide bearth. There didn’t appear to be any signs of vandalism but that’s probably because walking the grounds is like going through an obstacle course. If you want to make a quick sprint across the lot, forget it.
This cemetery proved to be the most challenging in my short hopping career. The grass was waist high in some spots so watching where you stepped was a must. Not to mention the holes. I don’t know if they were gopher holes or what animals had created them but I didn’t want to find out. I blocked that out. Even now, I thank God that nobody broke an ankle and we didn’t have to call 911.
Once most of the burials stopped there in the 1940s because it had no more room (I did see a few graves as recent as the 70s) and the church congregation moved on, Old Greencastle started going down hill. The church opened New Greencastle Cemetery a few streets over and it is still an active cemetery today. Any money set aside for perpetual care at the old place dried up. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for it, including the City of Dayton. The grass would be cut sporadically (a dangerous chore indeed) and American flags placed on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day. But that’s about it.
There are many cemeteries like Old Greencastle slowly sliding into decay and ruin that will never be saved. Sometimes one gets rescued if the community takes action and does something to preserve it. There are steps that can be taken to do that. But it takes time and money, two things most people do not have much of to spare.
At the time we visited, I didn’t know who was supposed to be taking care of Old Greencastle. I’ve since learned that the property does have a superintendent and he is trying to enlist support in getting it cleaned up. I hope he is successful because this one is definitely worth saving. There’s too much history there.
Despite spending quite a lot of time looking around, we never did find my great-grandparents’ graves. I did find some graves bearing Margaret’s mother’s maiden name (Olinger). This was one of the founding families of the church. They may be related to Margaret in some way. Maybe some day I will come back and try again. I want to see if improvements are being made. Maybe there’s a chance Old Greencastle will be one of the lucky ones.
I really hope it is.
I remember and old cemetery that used to be on Memorial Drive, and always wondered about it. It’s fun to continue hopping along with you, Traci!
Now you’ve got me curious as to where that one is. There’s one on Indian Creek really close to Memorial Drive. It’s still alive.
John Bayne (Atlanta) said:
If you want to see a dead cemetery, check out Hollywood (c. 1899) on Bolton Road.
I’ve read a lot about Hollywood and haven’t summoned the courage to go out there yet. I want to wait until I can take someone with me as I’m told it’s bit sketchy out there.
Sherman Camp Commander said:
Old Greencastle Cemetery is indeed in need of volunteers to help make it other than “abandoned.” That said, Dayton Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman Camp #93 members have for three years been returning honor to CW vets there by placing veteran markers, donating a U.S. flag and lights for the flagpole, and cutting weeds and grass in the Grand Army of the Republic Post 79 section and elsewhere. They have located and registered the graves of more than 150 CW veterans in the cemetery.They’ve marked many CW vet graves that have no tombstones. They are cleaning existing military grave markers.The SUVCW is being helped by Montgomery Co. Department of Veterans Services and others working to ensure veterans and other people buried at Old Greencastle are not forgotten. Community volunteers including several grounds maintenance professionals, workers provided by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, and New Greencastle Cemetery staff donated about 400 work hours during 2013 helping restore the grounds. Volunteer clean-up and maintenance efforts will continue in the future. Come for another visit.
Thank you so much for your comment!
It has been a while since I visited and I was really hoping to hear good news like this. I did notice that the Veterans’ section was the best looking in the entire cemetery when I was there. I am so glad to know you all are looking out for the many folks buried at Old Greencastle, including my ancestors. It is comfortingt to know it is getting the attention it deserves. When I am back in Dayton, I will definitely come visit.
Caryl Carver said:
I have many generation of ancestors buried at Greencastle Cemetery. When I still lived in Ohio (prior to 2013) I would go out there and clip around the headstones of my relatives and place flowers. It was so very sad to see that no one was attending to the cemetery. I tried to find out who owned it to contact them to no avail. I sure do hope that they are taking better care of it now.
Thank you for your comments. I’m pleased to be able to tell you that Old Greencastle is now being cared for by a dedicated group of volunteers. Members of the local Sons of Union Veterans, Sherman Camp, along with many others, are holding monthly clean up days to keep the grass cut and grave markers in good condition. It is in much better hands now than it was when I was there years ago. Please visit the Facebook page Friends of Old Greencastle for updates and stories of the families buried there. Lots of good things happening there now.
Jason G. said:
Thanks your efforts at the Old Greencastle Cemetery, I was able to learn the death date of one of my ancestors. My 3rd great grandmother lived and worked (as a nurse) at the Montgomery County Children’s Home from 1869 to 1877. I knew she had 3 girls (she left her abusive husband in St. Louis) who lived with her there and one must have died there before she remarried in 1878 but I had no conclusive evidence. Luckily, hers must have been one of the graves still intact. She was listed as Maud Davis (her name was actually “Davies”) and died on Dec 3 1877 at age 14. Thank you very much for your efforts! My wife and I have been cemetery hopping for 10 years now and have contributed quite a bit to Find-a-Grave, however, it is very rewarding to see someone’s efforts pay off for us! I sure hope the Old Greencastle Cemetery gets cleaned up. I will definitely follow up on this.
Jason, thank you for sharing your story! I have good news for you. Old Greencastle is indeed being cleaned up! I just wrote a follow up to this post about it. I am not sure what the last straw was, but something is finally being done to save it. You can read it here: https://adventuresincemeteryhopping.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/update-old-greencastle-cemetery/
I hope to see it for myself sometime this year. If you get a chance to visit it, and you see the name “Grice”, please let me know.
Paul Schenck said:
I believe the stones were read and transcribed in the 40’s and again in the 70’s, the records are on file at the Archives section of Wright State U. If the actual stones cannot be read, maybe the transcripts will be of use.
Paul, that’s how I even knew they were buried there. Someone added the Wright State archive to Find a Grave.
sarah alice ashby horton said:
we are trying to locate the grave of my son Buford Edward ashby died nov 26 1973 he was buried in babyland at greencastle cemetery on Nicholas road in Dayton ohio can u help?
I believe he was buried on nov 29 1973
Hello, Sarah! There are two Greencastle Cemeteries in Dayton. Old Greencastle is the one I have written about and it is located at Broadway and Miami Chapel Road. A few streets away, New Greencastle opened in 1944 on Nicholas Road, which is where your son is probably buried. That cemetery is active and burials are still taking place there. I would contact them to see if they have a record of his burial. The number I found for them is (937) 263-6321. That’s my best suggestion. I do know that the burial records for both cemeteries are also kept at Wright State University’s archives, which is open to the public. http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/collection_guides/guide_files/ms366.pdf
I hope this is helpful to you.
Don Burns said:
Speaking of Civil War burials, it is the grave site of my great uncle John J. Roof who served in the 10th VA Infantry (CSA) and was wounded at First Manasses.
Dayton Foodies said:
My 4x great grandfather and 4x great uncle are buried there. Both fought in the Civil War (Battle of Stone’s River) and my grandfather died in battle. This cemetery is in horrible condition!!!!! My new mission is to get this place turned around!!!! Anybody wanna help?
I don’t know if you had a chance to read my follow-up blog posts on Old Greencastle. In the last few years, the Sons of Union Veterans (Sherman Camp) have been working hard to geet the cemetery back in good condition. Fred Lynch sends me progress reports once in a while. The last one I got was in May and the picture he sent showed a nicely mowed cemetery. They were planning on the first Memorial Day event there for May, the first in decades. I do know that this work takes time and money. If you want to get involved, I would contact Fred and let him know you are interested. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have an ancestor (not at OG) who fought at Stone’s River as well.
Fred Lynch said:
Many people share Dayton Foodies’ concern. Old Greencastle Cemetery is 5.5 acres occasionally mowed by the property owner, but in general tended Pro Bono by a small group of volunteers. Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) Sherman Camp members, assisted by fellow community volunteers and Montgomery County STOP program mowing teams, conduct scheduled work days there several times a year. As a result, the overall site has improved from “jungle” to “accessible.” However, Sherman Camp focus is to maintain the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Hiram Strong Post 79 burial section plus tend the nearly 300 graves of veterans buried there – – including graves of more than 190 Civil War veterans. Some of our efforts to date include restoring the cemetery’s flagpole and ensuring the U.S. flag – – lighted – – flies there 24/7/365, We have also cleaned and straightened veterans’ gravestones, installed GAR markers alongside all of them, and placed U.S. flags in the markers for Memorial Day. Additional recent efforts include replacing three unreadable tombstones of Civil War veterans. A Sherman Camp program is underway to obtain government veterans’ markers for approximately 50 unmarked graves of CW soldiers. Camp’s 2016 Memorial Day service at Old Greencastle, the first in about 60 years, honored all veterans buried there. All the above has been done by volunteers, not the property owner. Support and assistance with SUVCW efforts at Old Greencastle is welcome. Contact us by email if interested in helping.
Caryl Carver said:
I sure hope you are able to get it turned around. I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2013 so I am unable to be of much assistance. Before I left Ohio, I would visit annually, trim around my relatives headstones and place flowers.
Good news. It’s getting cleaned up.
OH MY GOSH! Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve been thinking about Old Greencastle lately, wondering how it was doing and knowing how hard it’s been to keep this special place kept up and such. SUVCW Sherman Camp has been doing the work on their own but it’s so hard to go it alone. I’m so happy these folks went out today to do this when it would be easier to just drive on by. THANK YOU!!
Caryl Carver said:
This makes me very happy. Thank you so much for posting!!
My G-G-G-grandparents are buried there on both sides, ULLMER and Zellar. Thanks to everyone who helped clean it up.
Terry Butler said:
I have family members in the green castle cemetery 2 or 3 years ago the montgomery county sheriff had people out there cleaning it up I’m going out there in the spring when it warms up I have more family members I have found in ancestry that are in this cemetery
Hi, Terry! Many wonderful changes have come to Old Greencastle. They now have monthly cleanup days. There’s even a Facebook page called Friends of Old Greencastle that shares stories about the people buried there. It looks so much better. I hope to come see for myself in April.
Fred Lynch said:
Hi Ms. Butler – – Sherman Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, in Dayton will have volunteers working at Old Greencastle Cemetery the following dates in 2018:
· April 14 – spring cleanup
· May 19 – pre-Memorial Day cleanup
· June 16 – summer cleanup
· July 21 – summer cleanup
· Aug 25 – summer cleanup
· Sep 29 – late summer cleanup
· Oct 20 – fall cleanup
We also plan to conduct a Memorial Day ceremony there May 28. Descendants of veterans and others buried at OGC are welcome to visit during our cleanup days and to attend the Memorial Day ceremony. We’d be most pleased to meet you if your visit to OGC coincides with any of the dates we are there.
Terry Butler said:
Thank you for this information. But you have it wrong it’s Mr Terry Butler just a mistake no big deal. Does the new Greencastle cemetery have a website or have any way we can check to see who is buried there or someone to talk or would that information be located at the Wright State University library. Again thank you for the information listed below.
Fred Lynch said:
Hello again, Mr. Terry Butler – – Your interest is most welcome. Old Greencastle Cemetery on South Broadway is neglected by the owners. Sherman Camp and other community volunteers provide grounds maintenance care for graves of the 300 U.S. Armed Forces veterans buried there as a pro bono community service. Most of the original OGC burial records were destroyed during the 1913 flood, we are told. The OGC burial records at Wright State are incomplete and not totally accurate. Friends of Old Greencastle volunteers have been researching and reconstructing OGC records in recent years. Some of their research is available at Wright State. They have verified burial locations of most of the 190 plus Civil War veterans, and many others. If you provide name(s) of family member(s) buried at OGC, might be able to provide you information. Or, the researchers usually are at OGC 9 a.m. to Noon during cleanup days if you come by during one of them.
New Greencastle Cemetery is on Nicholas Rd. It’s still an active cemetery and maintained by the owners. Sherman Camp and other Friends of Old Greencastle have nothing to do with it. There is no website or Facebook page for NGC. Don’t know if there are any NGC records at Wright State. The NGC sexton has advised us he is sometimes there on Saturdays. He might be able to inform you concerning who and where folks are buried at NGC if that is info you are seeking.
terry butler said:
Thanks for this information I will be going out to Wright State library to check on some Mumma’s a Jacob H
John F Edelmann said:
Folks, just a little update; 2020 has been a bad year for the planet in general, but a very good one for OGC as it turns out. This past Memorial Day service, the entire cemetery was looking better than it ever has. And, with the help of some anonymous mowing and trimming assistance, in addition to the fine folks of the General Sherman Camp of the SUV, the cemetery is really in astonishing condition!
Thank you, John! I am planning to write a follow-up on how well things have been going at OGC since that first blog post. I did write a follow up a year or two after but I need to write about my visit in October 2018 and seeing Samuel Grice’s wonderful new marker for the first time. My family is so indebted to the General Sherman Camp of SUV and the volunteers who give of their time/sweat/lawn care all the time. I should have that new post written before the end of the year. Right now, I’m working on my cemetery visits in Dallas, Texas in July 2018 so OGC is next after that.
Jason McDaniel said:
If you ever get back down to Knoxville Tennessee look up Good Citizens Cemetery or EastPort African American Cemetery. It is on Fuller Ave and Addison St. in Knoxville. It is considered one of the oldest African American Cemeteries in East Tennessee and Knoxville and has between 5000 and 7000 graves. It was founded in 1836. It was a cemetery that people would buy the plots then their decedents would take care of the area around the plots. Good Idea until everyone moves away and nobody remembers two generations back. It looks like full grown woods right now. I have went back and can see activity on aerial photography as late at 1959 with paths still visible. In 1969 the paths are gone or shaded by trees. The last burial was in the ’50s I think as well. The news did a story on it several years ago and some of the people working on other neglected cemeteries in the area said it was too far gone and they might have to bulldoze it and put up one monument with interpretive signage. I have written several emails to officials about it with no response, of course. I am terribly embarrassed that the city would let it get this way.
Thank you, Jason! I was not aware of that particular cemetery but there’s a lot of Knoxville cemeteries I haven’t gotten to yet. I did look up an article that detailed the history. What both you and they describe is all too true. Unless there is a committed group willing to take on the care of an abandoned cemetery on a long-term basis or local government gets involved, this is what tends to happen. Or someone makes a cemetery an Eagle Scout project and after they get older, it falls back into disrepair. Sadly, it happens with African-American cemeteries much more than others. I truly hope that they don’t bulldoze it and put up a memorial marker but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. I hope to be up that way come spring so I will make an effort to go over that way to look around.
Jason McDaniel said:
There is an African American potters field close by with a couple other small African American cemeteries bordering it. One person took the initiative before it was too far gone and it looks good now.
There is a non profit in town that has been buying old in danger historical properties and rehabbing them. I sent them an email and it’s like writing a letter but instead of dropping it into a post office box, just dropping it into the trash. Nobody responds. Not even auto reply.
One of the problems with EastPort is they say they can’t trace ownership.
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Craig H Crosby said:
Thanks for the update. I knew my grandfather was interred at the OGC. I walked it twice when I was in town from California looking for the maker in waist high weeds and grass. The third time I was happy to see that the site was being maintained again. However, I did not find the marker. Upon further research, I found a plot map and located the marker online. I have not been back to Dayton in 5 years. I hope to get back and actually see it soon.
PS, I once found the plot map online. I can’t fin it now. Can someone post it?