Today I begin a two-part series on a place I’ve written about before and that I have an ancestral connection to: Dayton, Ohio’s Old Greencastle Cemetery.
In October 2018, after a stop in Cincinnati at Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum, my mother, sister, and I continued on to Dayton about 50 miles north. Dayton is where my parents are from and the area where my sister and I were born. We moved to Georgia when I was five years old, but we’ve always returned to visit family and take trips down memory lane.
It wasn’t until around 2008 after my son was born that I started researching my family tree. There was so much I didn’t know and certainly not where most of my ancestors were buried.
That research resulted in a 2012 visit to Old Greencastle Cemetery that I wrote about in this post and then an update and then another update in 2014. It was in terrible shape in 2012 because the owner didn’t care about it and has since vanished. The only section that was mowed in any fashion was the veterans’ area.
Those posts detail the history of Old Greencastle and how my great-great-grandfather (1837-1912) Samuel Grice served as a Union soldier during the Civil War as a member of the 93rd Ohio Infantry. When he died of heart disease on May 11, 1912 at the age of 74, he was buried at Old Greencastle Cemetery with no marker. His wife, Margaret, doesn’t have one either. She died in 1919.
I had stayed in touch with Fred Lynch, senior vice commander of the Sons of Union Veterans, Major General William T. Sherman Camp #93, over the years, enjoying the updates he sent me on how the cemetery was doing. It’s been mostly thanks to him and the other SUV volunteers that any mowing, trimming, or repairs have been done. On occasion, Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman has sent over the community pride clean-up trailer with landscaping equipment to help out.
I was thrilled in 2018 that I learned from Fred and Phil Brandt (who had been researching Old Greencastle for some time) that the SUV applied to get a veteran’s marker for Samuel and that it had been approved. We would be able to see it during our visit.
My mother, sister, and I met up with Frank and Phil. It was an emotional day for me, finally getting to meet two people who had done so much to help keep this abandoned cemetery from dying. The improvements to Old Greencastle were obvious as we looked around.
It also has a nifty new sign, which I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of that day so I borrowed this one they posted on Facebook in 2019.
The first place they pointed us to was Samuel’s new marker, which they had recently placed. I was a bit teary eyes about it, frankly. It touched my heart that a group of people who had never met me or my family had gone to the trouble of applying for a headstone for Samuel, a man who had not had much in the way of material goods in his lifetime. I wish we had a marker for Margaret as well, but that may come later.
We had wondered how it was that Samuel and Margaret ended up buried in this cemetery. That mystery was solved when Fred located a property map that showed the Grices and Olingers (Margaret’s maiden name) had owned land in the same neighborhood as the cemetery. I had spotted Olinger graves during my 2012 visit.
Two of Samuel’s sons Harry and Wilbert married two sisters, Florence and Cordelia Claar. These two women were the daughters of Louisa Elvira McCoy Claar and John Irwin Claar. That’s where my next Old Greencastle story begins.
The sisters were born in rural Jackson County, Ohio in the 1880s where the Claar family had lived for years. At some point after 1900, the Claars moved to Dayton. Florence married my great-grandfather Harry Grice just a month before her father John died in February 1906. He is buried in Beaver Union Cemetery in Pike County, Ohio.
Cordelia married Wilbert Grice a few months later. Sadly, that marriage would end in divorce some years later. They had one daughter, Margaret.
The next years were hard on Louisa and the remaining siblings. The boys took jobs doing whatever they could, from making cigars to posting signs. Edward and Vinton never married. Mabel worked as a housekeeper until her marriage to Elmer Ellsman.
Edward died at the age of 37 in April 1919. By this time, the family had changed their last name from “Claar” to “Clair” in everything I’ve seen. My guess is that World War I made having a German-sounding last name quite uncomfortable.
You can’t even read Edward’s marker anymore. When I came in 2012, I couldn’t find it amid the tall grass and weeds.
Everett, the oldest, married later in life to a woman named Laura. They would move to Pennsylvania but had no children. He died in 1966 and is buried with Laura in Natrona Heights, Pa. in Mount Airy Cemetery.
Louisa was my father’s grandmother and I do have photos of her later in life. Early in my grandparents’ marriage and the first few years of my father’s life, they lived with my great-grandmother Florence and Harry on Milton Street. That’s about five miles from Old Greencastle. I’m sure Louisa lived nearby. This is the one photo I have of my father, Florence, and Louisa together.
It was this photo we took with us to Dayton on our visit. My mother was holding it as I knelt beside Louisa’s stone. Louisa died in 1941 at the age of 83 after what the newspaper called an 18-month illness. She was living with Cordelia when she died. I feel sad that her marker is homemade and falling apart. But at least she has one.
My great-grandmother, Florence, died in 1945. She is buried with Harry in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery, a far larger cemetery than Old Greencastle. We’ll visit her grave in a few weeks when I explore that vast burial ground.
Vinton died in 1946 at age 56 and was buried with his mother and Edward. His marker is also in poor condition. Mabel, the youngest, died in 1982 at the age of 87. She is buried with her husband, Elmer, in Dayton Memorial Cemetery.
It’s an understatement to say that these simple gravestone represent a lot to me. These were my ancestors, my family, whom for years I knew nothing about. My father and grandfather never spoke of them.
We dearly hope to provide a new single marker for Louisa, Edward, and Vinton so that something is in place once their markers disintegrate, which will sadly happen sooner than later. I’ve been looking into the expense and how to do it.
I’ve got some more stories to share from Old Greencastle that I know you’ll enjoy. Come back for Part II.