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Area woman donates poor farm property to county commission

by Jim Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Last August, Sharon DiMaria got a telephone call from a woman who said her grandmother was buried on DiMaria's property.

That news came as a shock to DiMaria. After some checking, she found that the old county poor farm cemetery was located on property she inherited from her late husband in 1993.

The plot, just a little over an acre, is near the 4-H Center barn on U.S. Route 19. DiMaria said the cemetery is not marked. A few stone markers and several sunken impressions are the only evidence of the graveyard, DiMaria said.

All that will change in the coming months, since DiMaria has donated the property back to the county commission. County Administrator Jim Harris said commissioners plan to clean the area, cut the weeds, put up a fence and mark the historic cemetery. An access road also is planned, he said.

"I think the commissioners just want to do the right thing," Harris said. "This is just something that got lost along the way. Obviously, this commission isn't responsible for selling it, but I think they feel this is a part of Harrison County's history."

DiMaria said she had no idea the cemetery was on her property because there were no records of a cemetery in the deed.

The property was sold sometime in the 1960s, Harris said. DiMaria's late father-in-law purchased the property. The deed was passed to DiMaria's husband in 1984.

Harris said he wasn't sure why the cemetery property was sold. Some records from the poor farm are in County Clerk Sylvia Basile's office, but the records are incomplete, he said. Not all deaths were recorded and there is no mention of the cemetery's location, he said, which may have contributed to the sale.

Harris said the poor farm actually is older than Harrison County itself. He said the farm dates to a time when Harrison County was still part of Monongalia County and West Virginia had not yet split from Virginia. He said the farm was operating through the 1950s.

"Back when we were still Virginia, there was a home for the poor," he said. "There was 100 acres or more out there. People with no where else to go would live there and raise crops and livestock. It was basically self-sufficient. Of course, that's before the days of social welfare.

"It worked in that it was a residential facility and the people who were there earned their keep," he said.

Harris said indigents used to be the responsibility of the county commission. The county hired a person or couple to live at the farm and oversee the property.

DiMaria said she was undecided about what to do about the cemetery when she found out it was there. Ultimately, though, she and her son decided to give the land to the commission.

"We kicked it around for a while. I thought the proper thing to do was just donate it back," she said.

When residents of the farm died, they were buried at the cemetery, often with no markers or written records. That is causing some problems in developing a historic marker for the property.

"We can't identify who's buried out there because we really have no records," Harris said.

Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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