Farmer's cultivation of cemetery reaps place in history

2014-01-19T19:30:00Z 2014-01-20T23:05:22Z Farmer's cultivation of cemetery reaps place in historyBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
January 19, 2014 7:30 pm  • 

LOWELL | A history-loving West Creek Township farmer saved a 200-year-old cemetery from real estate speculators after another Lake County tax sale blunder.

John Kramer, 74, recently relinquished control of the Fuller Cemetery to township officials a year after he purchased and cared for this 1.2-acre final resting place for the area's pioneer families and its less fortunate residents.

Kramer, who has been farming its perimeter since 1966, said, "We have cared for this cemetery for 35 years through mowing and tree trimming. My wife used to take our little kids up there and sit on the gravestones and read stories to them. It's just so much a part of our family, I couldn't let it go."

How it came up for sale is another chapter in how the county's aggressive effort to collect delinquent taxes and user fees has led to unintended consequences. 

County Attorney John Dull said the county's computerized database flagged it for several hundred dollars in unpaid MS4 fees levied on all landowners to support the reduction of soil erosion.

It was in fact owned at the time by the West Creek Township trustee's office for burials of indigent residents. Because no township government pays taxes, township officials assumed the bill was a mistake.

"We just turned it over to the past trustee for the county to take care of it, and it never was," said Harold Mussman, the current trustee.

Dull said county officials were unaware because their records listed it under the name of a long-departed township trustee.

A similar tax sale mix-up gave a blind Cedar Lake woman's home to a land speculator who evicted her. Cedar Lake town officials are now trying to recover it for her.

Kramer said a friend of his family spotted the cemetery on a tax sale inventory and alerted him.

South Lake County residents have watched green fields disappear under the march of burgeoning subdivisions throughout the fast-growing West Lake Corridor, a trend they fear will only accelerate with the coming of an Illiana Expressway and South Shore commuter train expansion.

"There is no threat of that this time, but I was concerned about someone using the cemetery right of way as a public road to start (a subdivision) in the future," Kramer said.

The Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society website states the cemetery was first mentioned in an 1884 book by Lake County historian Timothy Ball. A 1956 report found the "grass mowed, the graves neatly groomed, and all the stones and monuments erect."

The barely legible stones record dozens of old Lowell family names. Kramer said descendants of the Fuller family not only occupy the cemetery, but still live in the area.

County and township officials eventually became aware and negotiated its repurchase last month for $3,043 to reimburse Kramer for his purchase price, drainage improvements and grass cutting over the past year.

He got one more bonus out of the deal.

Eight Fuller Cemetery lots are now dedicated in his family's name.

"It's a real family thing," he said.

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