JEFFERSON COUNTY – A pioneer cemetery between Fairfield and Packwood has received a makeover thanks to a grant from the Greater Jefferson County Foundation.
The foundation awarded a grant for $16,000 to replace foundations and reset headstones at Brooks Cemetery, located on 171st Boulevard just off Packwood Road. The grant has paid to restore 25 headstone foundations at the cemetery.
The Locust Grove Board of Trustees, which is in charge of the project, plans to use the remaining funds to repair headstone foundations in the neighboring Gantz Cemetery, on Packwood Road a couple of miles southwest of Brooks Cemetery. The trustees have flagged 15 headstones in the Gantz Cemetery as needing repairs, and they’ll repair as many as they can before the money runs out, which they’re estimating to be after 10 headstones.
Eugene Person, clerk of the Locust Grove Board of Trustees, said he and the trustees have been dreaming of rehabilitating the Brooks Cemetery for years.
“Getting this grant was a dream come true,” he said. “We plan to try again next year, because we’ll have more work to do. We’re hoping we can finish Gantz Cemetery next year with another grant.”
Randy Major, chair of the board of trustees, said it was depressing to see so many stones at Brooks Cemetery had fallen off their foundations. He said he’s very pleased to have the headstones returned to their rightful place.
The Locust Grove Board of Trustees is in charge of maintaining the cemeteries in the township as well as providing fire protection and resolving fence disputes. The trustees contacted Jeremy Cranston, of Cranston Family Funeral Home, after learning he repairs monuments, too. Cranston gave them a quote after surveying the condition of the headstones, and before long he was at the site pouring new foundations.
“For most of the stones, their foundation has tipped so that the top section [of the stone] has broken off or fallen off,” Cranston said. “And a lot of old stones that are taller come in several pieces. In some cases, their tops had slid off and were laying in the grass.”
Cranston said it is common to find pioneer cemeteries where the headstones come in multiple pieces – sometimes three to four with a top cap – and to stand 3-5 feet tall. Modern headstones are almost entirely granite, but the early pioneers had to settle for whatever rock was available. Another interesting thing he found about the old headstones was that they included the person’s age at the time of their death not just in years but down to the month and day.
“When we set a new foundation today, we pour solid concrete as a footing, but they didn’t do that back then,” Cranston said. “When we dug up these foundations, we dug out brick, clay tile, chunks of rock. Over time, that shifted and caused the headstone to tip. Considering how long they’ve been here, it’s amazing they’ve held up so long.”
For the gravestones he is repairing, Cranston is digging a minimum of 36 inches, and usually going as deep as 40-45 inches. The solid concrete he fills the hole with will prevent the headstone from shifting again, at least for a very long time.
Cranston said he’s restored headstones before, but usually just individual stones where people notice that their great-grandparent’s stone is starting to tip, or things like that.
“This is the biggest project I’ve done since I’ve started,” he said.
Those who helped
The restoration of Brooks Cemetery was made possible by a team of individuals who lent their expertise to a different part of the project. In no particular order, they are:
• The Greater Jefferson County Foundation for supplying the $16,000 grant;
• The Locust Township Board of Trustees: Randy Major (chair), Jerry Leazer and Ken Everly, along with clerk Eugene Person;
• Jeremy Cranston for pouring the foundations and setting the stones;
• Kent Whitney for giving the trustees an initial cost estimate and for giving his advice;
• Verda Baird of the Jefferson County Genealogical Society for her help in retrieving cemetery records;
• Kevin Heston for mowing and maintaining the cemeteries in the township;
• Jefferson County Engineer’s Office for agreeing to remove the rubble from the old foundations; (Eliminating this expense will allow the trustees to spend more money on restoring headstones)
• Jefferson County Board of Supervisors for encouraging the trustees to undertake the project.
Brooks Cemetery is not an active cemetery, with its most recent burial occurring in the 1980s, and the vast majority of them decades before that from the early 1900s and late 1800s. The oldest headstones date to the Civil War or even earlier. Among the most prominent is that of Col. William S. Brooks, whose tombstone indicates he died at the Battle of Big Creek Arkansas on July 26, 1864, at 24 years old. (The tombstone was among those restored. It had fallen off its foundation and been placed about 50 feet from its grave.)
In the ensuing weeks after the battle, The Fairfield Ledger published a series of articles about Col. Brook’s funeral and his life as a soldier. He distinguished himself during the war for his bravery at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (near Springfield, Missouri), and the Battle of Prairie Grove (northwest Arkansas), during which he was wounded. We was promoted to be Colonel of an infantry regiment of black troops.
On Sept. 8, 1864, The Ledger reported, “On the morning of the 26th [of July], Col. W. S. Brooks, early in the engagement – mounted – was holding and encouraging his men at the post of duty and honor, fell mortally wounded … His career, which promised fame and glory, was thus cut short. …. To use his own language, while he lay suffering in death: ‘God knows I did not love to fight, but I loved my country.’ … Thus lived and thus died a talented boy – a brave soldier – an uncompromising patriot. Peace be to his ashes; honor, love and glory to his name.”
Col. Brooks was the son of Tinley M. Brooks, one of the early pioneers to the area and after whom the cemetery, and the town of Brookville, were named.
In its special centennial edition published in 1946, The Fairfield Ledger reported that Tinley Brooks was born in Kentucky in 1797, moved to Ohio as a young boy, and came to Jefferson County in the early 1840s. He purchased land in Locust Grove Township and laid out the town of Brookville.
He donated the ground upon which the Methodist Church in Brookville was built, and the ground for the school house and cemetery. The Ledger reported that Tinley accumulated large holdings of land, with one authority putting it at 1,100 acres and another early historian of the county placing it as high as 2,000 acres.