It’s a Small (After)world…*

Fall Creek Cemetery, a true Indiana pioneer graveyard, can be found at approximately 4100 Millersville Road, just east of Keystone Avenue — tucked between an aging urban business district and the contrasting beauty of the Fall Creek Parkway Trail. At the time of its origin, the cemetery was located in an area that was called “Millersville,” aptly named for the multiple gristmill sites located along neighboring Fall Creek. Millersville was never officially platted or incorporated.

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Photo circa 1867. Adjacent to the Fall Creek Cemetery, this Ebenezer Church sanctuary was built in 1853 to replace the original log church that had been used by the congregation since its founding in 1838. Ebenezer held its last service at the Millersville location in 1986.

Of course, it’s nearly impossible to tell the story of the cemetery without, to some extent, telling the story of the Ebenezer Lutheran Church (sometimes called Ebenezer Union in historical documents) that sat adjacent to the cemetery property. In the mid-1820s, seven families from the Zion Lutheran Church in Middletown, Maryland came to Indiana (first to New Harmony, then on to Indianapolis) where they founded the Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Washington Township.  The founding church members were:  Jacob Ringer Sr.and Jr., Conrad Ringer, George Peter (Braun) Brown, George (Braun) Brown, John (Braun) Brown, Daniel Shartz, Daniel (Schmeh) Smay, Daniel (Bauer) Bower, King English, and Solomon Easterday.

These pioneering families would join the few other settlers already in the area, establishing businesses and farms in the rudimentary communities of Millersville, Nora, and Broad Ripple. The land was fertile and wild game was plentiful. Fall Creek provided ample access to water for life- and business-sustaining opportunities, and fishing was abundant.

The leadership of the newly-founded Ebenezer Lutheran church went about the business of Christian life: supporting, teaching, baptizing, and burying members of the church and the surrounding community — initially convening services in a temporary log cabin and then in 1853, in its first permanent church building, the clapboard-built structure (below).

This church [1867] was the second one built since the congregation's founding in 1838.

This church [1867] was the second one built since the congregation’s founding in 1838.

On an interesting side note, another local place of worship, the Highland church and graveyard, (pictured below) was constructed in the vicinity — near 46th Street and Emerson Avenue.  The Highland church was founded in the late 1860s due to a doctrinal disagreement among members at the Ebenezer Lutheran Church. Half the members including the Negley family (Millersville founders) established this new church, calling it the Upper Ebenezer Church — but later renaming it Highland.

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On a similarly-interesting side note, wealthy and well-known Staughton Fletcher, owner of the Millersville area mansion Laurel Hall, attempted to buy the Highland church property in the 1920s but was legally thwarted when he could not find enough relatives of those interred at Highland church graveyard, for permission to move the graves to Fall Creek Cemetery… but we digress …

Back to the topic at hand:
The Fall Creek Cemetery (listed in some documents as the Fall Creek Union Cemetery) was established just prior to the Ebenezer Church, in 1836. The graveyard boasts amongst its most honored interred:
– The oldest person buried there, Jacob Ringer, Sr., who was born in 1757
– Powell Howland, member of the Indiana House of Representatives
– Reverand Samuel Harsock (born 1876) who was a missionary to Africa
– At least one Revolutionary War veteran
– At least three veterans from the War of 1812
– More than 20 Civil War veterans
– At least three WWI veterans
– At least three WWII veterans
– A great many from amongst the membership of the Millersville Masonic Lodge including Thomas Hammond, original owner of the historic Hammond’s Grove area that became a popular park in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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The third Ebenezer Church, which was dedicated on January 10, 1875, was the only brick church in Washington Township.   Photo circa 1914.

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The view across the street from Ebenezer church (which later became Meadows shopping center). Roberts Dairy owned all the land from Millersville Road south to 38th Street. This was grazing land for their cows.

The view across the street from Ebenezer church (which later became Meadows shopping center).  The Roberts Dairy family owned all the land from Millersville Road south to 38th Street. This was grazing land for their cows.

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When fire destroyed the congregation’s 70 year old church building, the damage was estimated at $20,000. For the next fifteen months, services were conducted in temporary quarters, most often in the Millersville Masonic Lodge.

The City of Indianapolis overtook the quiet country life of Millersville in the mid-20th Century. The land around the cemetery and church was transformed from rural to urban as the founders’ farms began to be parsed out, piece by piece, for the development of suburbs and businesses. Eventually the demographics of the area changed. The church and cemetery fell into grave disrepair (pun intended) in the 1960s and 1970s, as middle-income and affluent residents moved (mostly) north.

Local historian, Earl Anderson, displaying the 36 star American Flag that hung on the wall behind the pulpit at Ebenezer church during the Civil War. He acquired it after the church closed along with many history records.

Local historian, Earl Anderson, displaying the 36 star American Flag that hung on the wall behind the pulpit at Ebenezer church during the Civil War. He acquired it after the church closed along with many history records.

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Directly adjacent to Fall Creek Cemetery, Ebenezer Lutheran Church ceased to meet in this building in 1986.  The location is now home to the Indiana Baptist Church.

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Then, about ten years ago, the newly-elected Washington Township Trustee, Gwen Horth, discovered that there were several abandoned cemeteries in her district in very bad condition from years of neglect and vandalism. Horth identified funds and contacted a professional restorationist by the name of John “Walt” Walters. In 2002, Walt and his crew from Graveyard Groomers, along with some local volunteers, undertook the restoration of the Fall Creek Cemetery. The crew started, with snow still on the ground, removing immense brush and poison ivy over-growth.  Many beautiful old markers (977, to be exact) were in need of relocation, resetting or repair due to the ravages of time and vandalism. Thanks to this nearly-two-year effort, the Fall Creek Cemetery, with over 1050 burial plots, is once again a fitting memorial to the lives of Millersville pioneers.

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Restorationist “Walt” Walters in 2003. The group worked meticulously to locate, straighten and level every grave marker.

Heavy restoration: Larger monuments sink due to their weight and the fact that the wood coffin below collapses, over time. Many of the major Fall Creek Cemetery monuments had to be lifted and reset to form a more permanent support -- some requiring several days of work.

Heavy restoration: Larger monuments sink due to their weight and the fact that the wood coffin below collapses, over time. Many of the major Fall Creek Cemetery monuments had to be lifted and reset to form a more permanent support — some requiring several days of work.

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Restoration team member Danny Ferris putting in some long hours to remove yards of over growth in the cemetery. Notice the tall wild cherry tree behind Ferris; It is a “witness tree,” that was used in the 1836 land survey.

Tucked away and nicely groomed, a visitor to the Fall Creek Cemetery will find the graves of Indiana pioneers, and veterans from the Revolutionary War to WWII.

Tucked away and nicely groomed, a visitor to the Fall Creek Cemetery will find the graves of Indiana pioneers, and veterans from the Revolutionary War to WWII.

This marker had sunk 2/3rds of the way into the ground before restoration. Now readable, it tells the tale of the Brown family -- a very hardy lot. It is documented that the women in the family preferred field work to house work and when the state fair commenced every year, they would enter contests against the men in harvesting -- sometimes winning!

This marker had sunk 2/3rds of the way into the ground before restoration. Now readable, it tells a quirky tale of the Brown family — evidently a very hardy lot. It is documented that the women in the family preferred field work to house work and when the state fair commenced every year, they would enter contests against the men in harvesting — sometimes winning!

This leads me to my final *interesting side note: While researching this article, My husband and I met with a friend and avid amateur historian who had participated in the restoration of the graveyard years before. He gave us a “roots tour” of the cemetery, pointing out the graves of the area’s founding fathers and noting some of the challenges that arose from trying to locate sunken grave stones and restore broken markers. I took photos of the tranquil little “park” and posted them to my Facebook page, as any good history nerd would. To my surprise, about a half hour later I learned via a family member that we stood only feet from the grave of my husband’s great-grandfather. We had no idea.

Great-grandpa Gatewood, enjoy your 15 minutes of fame, wherever you are.

Great-grandpa Gatewood, enjoy your 15 minutes of fame, wherever you are.

Wow… it IS a small (after)world!

 

Tell us, in the comments section below:

What are your memories of Fall Creek Cemetery, Ebenezer Church or Highland church? Or…

What surprising things did you learn about your family while cemetery sleuthing?