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Commission may place memorial marker at former Harrison County

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Most of the graves on a small piece of wooded land along U.S. Route 19 have no tombstones, flowers or other markers.

For all but a few who died at the Harrison County Poor Farm, the only distinguishing feature for their final resting places are the depressions their graves have left in the soil.

But now, county commissioners want to remember those who are buried there. County officials are exploring the possibility of cleaning up the site and installing a memorial marker there, said Jim Harris, county administrator.

"Only a couple (of the graves) have markings," Harris said.

"The commission would like to clean up the land, fence it and put up some kind of memorial for the people buried there."

That would protect the historic graves on the site, said Beth Taylor, commission president and a member of the County Landmarks Commission.

"We would like to preserve the integrity of the graves and see no further disturbance to the area in the future," Taylor said.

Commissioners could offer to take over the cemetery acreage, since it cannot be moved or developed. This would give the county responsibility for it, Harris said.

The land is owned by Sharon DiMaria, who was unaware that the land contained a graveyard until just recently, she said. A woman from North Carolina researching her family history found the graveyard and told DiMaria about it, she said.

The land is located along Route 19 just south of Clarksburg near the 4-H Center, which sits on part of the former farm. The farm used to consist of more than 100 acres.

County poor farms were places where the impoverished could go to live. They would live and work on the farm to support themselves.

Most counties in the country had poor farms for that purpose but they started to become obsolete with the advent of social programs in the 1930s.

Those who died while on the Harrison County Poor Farm were buried in the cemetery there, Harris said.

The farm was renamed the County Infirmary in the 1930s, he said. The last person was buried in the graveyard in the late 1950s and the institution closed Sept. 30, 1960.

The county commission sold the property in 1965 to a private company owned by DiMaria's family.

Researchers reviewing county clerk's office records have not yet determined when the poor farm was founded but some of the earliest records from there date back to the early 1850s, Harris said.

Most of the records are simple. "Leonard. Died 1853. Free colored male. In poor house, Harrison. Age: Unclear. Cause: Old age," one entry reads.

Some entries have the person's full name. Others, just the first. Some causes of death listed include dropsy, fits, dysentery and consumption.

Photos of the poor farm contained in county files show a farm house, barn, school, hospital and other buildings.

DiMaria said she plans to meet with commissioners to discuss what to do about the graveyard. No date for that meeting has been set.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at pdarst@exponent-telegram.com.

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