Thursday, May 29, 2014

Browsing at Allen Pioneer Cemetery: Part 1


I took a quick trip out to Allen Pioneer Cemetery Wednesday to take a look at three tombstones, all in a row, commemorating Civil War soldiers who died of war-related causes --- then got sidetracked by the cemetery itself. So won't get around to the original purpose of the trip until another day.

Allen is one of two pioneer cemeteries located about a mile apart on the Lucas-Monroe county line, both related to the ghost town of LaGrange, one of Lucas County's earliest and most promising villages. To get there from Chariton just drive east on U.S. 34. to the county line. Four scattered houses on the north side of the highway mark the village site, as does the LaGrange Cemetery, just off the highway, north on the graveled county line road.

To get to Allen Cemetery, turn north a quarter mile short of the county line and drive a mile. Look for the cemetery on a hilltop a short distance east of the road after it curves northwest through a small valley,  rises past what I remember as the Jonathan Chase farmstead (buildings gone now), then straightens out again.

LaGrange was platted for Samuel Prather during October of 1852 on 40 acres of his land, then flourished for 20 years because it was located astraddle what became the main east-west road through southern Iowa and also because it was the first of three Western Stage Co. stops in Lucas County. Travelers could find a meal here;  lodging, if there were business to do in the neighborhood; and fresh horses were hitched to coaches before they continued west to Chariton, then on to Tallahoma on White Breast Creek before plunging into Clarke County.

When construction of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad resumed in 1867, after the Civil War had ended, it was routed about a mile south and rail entrepreneurs founded the village of Russell alongside it. Russell grew and LaGrange gradually faded away.


Allen Cemetery is named after the Douglass and Anna (Allison) Allen family, who settled nearby during 1848 or 1849. A Cumberland Presbyterian congregation was organized in the Allen cabin during the fall of 1851, one of Lucas County's earliest churches, and Allen Cemetery is linked closely to that church --- two of its pastors who died relatively young, Henry Bell in 1865 and O.G. Hawkins in 1887, are buried here as are the Allens and a majority of its other early members.

It appears that Allen Cemetery was considered the appropriate burial place for LaGrange-area Presbyterans while others were buried in the cemetery in LaGrange proper. The Presbyterians didn't get around to building until 1868-69, however, and when they decided to do so, selected a site in the village rather than near their cemetery.


Henry Bell, that early Cumberland Presbyterian preacher who died at age 37 years, 6 months and 10 days on Nov. 10, 1865, has the tallest tombstone in Allen Cemetery. The fine print reads, "An earnest & efficient minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for 13 years. Servant of God, well done."

Henry was born April 28, 1828 in Prieble County, Ohio, and married Rachel Morse Roberts during 1853 in Brown County, Illinois. When the 1856 state census was taken, Henry was serving Cumberland Presbyterians in Pleasant Grove Township, Des Moines County; and by 1860, was located in Yellow Springs, also in Des Moines County.

The Bells had three children, son Finis (born 1854) and daughters Mary Georgiana (born 1859) and Florence Augusta, born in Lucas County on Feb. 8, 1865. Little Florence died on Oct. 16, 1865, a few weeks before her father's death, and was the first family member to be buried at Allen. 

After Henry died, Rachel returned to Illinois to live, but her remains were brought to Allen Cemetery for burial after she died on April 8, 1897, in Kansas City.

Son Finis became a physician and returned to Lucas County during 1880 to open his first practice in Russell. He soon moved on, however, and settled down at Mattoon in Coles County, Illinois, where he died during 1928.


This tombstone due west of the Bell marker in Allen Cemetery, commemorating Mary E., wife of William Harrison Van Nice, who died at age 36 on April 12, 1871, is one of my favorites. Not only is it a quality piece of craftsmanship that's held up well, we also know where it originated because the maker mark is clearly evident: F.W. McCall, Oskaloosa.



Mary Elizabeth Verbrike and William Harrison Van Nice were married in Hendricks County, Indiana, and moved west to Lucas County, Iowa, with their family in 1853. Following Mary's death, W.H. married as his second wife Sarah Jane Rose and they moved into Chariton, where he died on April 14, 1894. He is buried with Sarah and some of his children in the Chariton Cemetery.

1 comment:

Brenda said...

The sky provided a lovely backdrop for your photos at the cemetery. Beautiful!