In my many years of driving throughout Indianapolis, I feel like I can count on one hand, how many times I’ve made it through a green light on northbound Keystone at Kessler. And each time I sit at what seems to be an excessively long red, I ponder “so what’s the deal with the random tombstone?” From the road, the tiny cemetery provides the curious with precious few answers. Unless you were to be walking by, there is no quick place to stash one’s automobile while you investigate further. And for some reason, at least for me, that particular intersection is one of many in the city that fills me more with a feeling of “please let traffic move through here at a reasonable rate,” rather than a “I’ll park my car a few blocks from here and wander over to have a look.” However, partially encouraged by Steve Campbell’s “What’s in a Name – Sargent Road” article, this week I finally had my look. And ended up with a slightly more macabre story than I had imagined.
The small plot of land on the southeastern corner of Keystone and Kessler sat undeveloped and neglected until the intervention of a little old lady from
Pasadena Kokomo in 1984. Dorothea Wood Sargent had been married to John Jacob Sargent, a WWI vet and descendant of the prominent, land-owning family for whom Sargent Road is named. John Jacob, incidentally, was the great-great-great-grandson of John Sargeant (1710-1749) a missionary from Stockbridge, Massachusetts who was the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting, left unfinished by the artist’s passing in 1978. Though his historical star has faded, it was the 16th century Sargeant who converted the Mahican tribe to Christianity at the request of Chief Konkapot.
Returning to the 20th century, husband John Jacob Sargent told wife Dorothea of his family’s historic cemetery, or rather, what was left of it. That empty lot at Keystone and Kessler was all that remained of one of Indianapolis’ earliest cemeteries.
Zipping back to the 19th century, in 1835 early Hoosiers Hiram and Mary Bacon deeded land to Washington Township for the specific purposes of creating a cemetery. In what would be called the Bacon Cemetery, a Revolutionary War veteran named Hezekiah Smith was the first soul interred in the land, “far north of Indianapolis.” Two more cemeteries were established to the east of the Bacon Cemetery– the Dawson and Culbertson, closer to what is now Rural Ave. However, when Crown Hill opened in 1864, many of the bodies were relocated to the city’s premier resting place, leaving the Bacon, Dawson and Culbertson Cemeteries behind.
Enter one George Edward Kessler. One of the early 20th century’s preeminent landscape architects, the German- born Kessler had already led Indianapolis’ Parks Commission for six years before stepping down in 1915. He was hired once again to develop a belt road for the city’s northside. Actually, he was in Indy supervising the construction of said thoroughfare when he died in 1923. This meandering beltway was named Kessler Boulevard in his honor.
Kessler, before he was in need of an undertaker, ironically, opted to route his road DIRECTLY THROUGH our little cluster of cemeteries, paving directly over graves that had not previously been relocated to Crown Hill. In grand “Poltergeist” fashion, many of the surrounding houses were developed directly atop the forgotten graveyards. Why that little plot of land on to corner remained undeveloped remains unclear.
Back to Dorothea. In 1984, Mrs. Sargent took it upon herself to spare what was left of the Bacon Cemetery. Another set of Sargent decedents, the Dickersons were believed to be buried at that spot, including Robert Dickerson, a private in the 2nd Virginia Regiment of the Revolutionary War. Dorothea raised $3,400 from members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and erected the monument and flag poles that exist today, burying John Jacob there after he passed in 1991. A serious letter-writing and phone-calling campaign to Washington Township put the cemetery back under the care of the township’s trustee’s office and what was once a neglected empty lot full of broken bottles turned into a well-groomed memorial to a few of the city’s oldest residents.
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