PORTAGE TOWNSHIP | Tucked between a mobile home park and the Indiana Toll Road lies the resting place of some of the area's earliest settlers.
Mary Brown James was the first to be buried there on Oct. 18, 1838. Mary Worman was the last, buried in 1884.
Subsequently, between 25 and 40 other early residents were interred in what is known as James Cemetery.
But, said Debbie Clem, Portage Township cemetery director, all the names may never be known.
There is very little left of the cemetery. A few foundations of headstones remain. There are some rose bushes and live forever plants, which Clem believes may have been planted more than a century ago to mark graves, growing, scattered about the approximate half-acre parcel of land.
Back at the cemetery garage is a pallet of broken pieces of headstones that have been gathered, inventoried. They will try to piece them together.
Vandals have destroyed nearly everything over the course of decades.
Clem and Kathy Heckman of the Portage Township Historical Society have made it their mission to spearhead the cemetery's cleanup.
"We're trying to preserve what I can find in this cemetery for the descendants who are concerned about their ancestors buried there. We need to preserve these cemeteries and make it a peaceful environment to go out to," said Clem.
She and Heckman have become genealogy sleuths. They've tracked down the names of 25 people they know are buried in the cemetery, including the parents of Josephus Wolf, one of the earliest township settlers.
Clem also has received a license to probe from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to search just inches below ground for additional headstones.
The cemetery originally was farmland owned by the James family in the 1800s. The land was sold to the Schrock family and then to the developers of Pleasant Valley Mobile Home Park. In the mid 1950s, when the toll road was to be constructed, there were initial plans to relocate the cemetery. However, when one descendant of someone buried there objected, a mile-long section of the toll road had to be relocated instead.
For the two, preserving the cemetery and the stories of those buried there has become a passion.
"People need to know this is the oldest township cemetery. People need to know where it is so we can preserve it," said Clem.
Ideally, said Clem, once they have completed identifying as many people buried there as they can, she would like to have the area planted with a ground cover and surrounded by a hedgerow for protection.
That way, she hopes, it will give those buried there a respectful resting place and it will give their descendants a peaceful place to visit and pay respects.
"When people come to these cemeteries, they are sad, and I don't want the graves to look bad, because that makes them sadder," she said.