Pioneer Tombstones Finally Returned to Cheviot
By Rich Juzwick
Underneath a seemingly normal exterior, the Cheviot Municipal Parking Lot has a far richer history than most local residents could ever conceive. The roots of the Municipal Lot’s history date as far back as the early 1800s. This plot of land was primarily used as a local cemetery for Cheviot and Green Township’s first pioneers and was actively used for burials for 25+ years. Unfortunately, attention to the cemetery began to wane around the turn of the century. For years the City of Cheviot tried to do away with the burial ground but efforts proved unsuccessful because of a federal law that stated cemeteries can not be converted into building sites while living heirs remain. Overall there aren’t many official details or records of the cemetery’s history but some historians have been able to preserve a handful of facts and photos. The big questions people ask when they find out that the Municipal Parking Lot was a cemetery are: What happened to the headstones and what happened to the bodies?
Through research of local newspapers and conversations with local residents, the story of the bodies and headstones has materialized. In 1956, when the City of Cheviot created the first parking lot, most stones were stacked up in the bushes or leaned up against surrounding buildings with stones staying there for close to 20 years. In 1975 the City of Cheviot cleared the remaining stones in preparation for the full development of the Municipal Parking Lot. Many of the headstones were dumped at the end of Bruestle Avenue and were covered in dirt over time.
When work to remove the headstones began, a passerby, named Joseph Middendorf, felt the disposal of the headstones was disrespectful, so he salvaged as many headstones and monuments as he could and moved them to his farm in St. Leon Indiana. There, he created a mock cemetery to honor the people that had resided in Cheviot Cemetery.
In 2018 Joseph passed away and his daughter contacted Mary Rebold with hopes to return the headstones to Cheviot. In December 2018, the first headstones were returned to Cheviot Historical Society. One of the headstones was that of Cheviot founder, John Craig. The other headstone was a shared headstone for his two sons who were killed by lightning. On July 30, 2020, a group of Cheviot historians went out to St. Leon, Indiana to retrieve the two dozen remaining headstones.
The story of the bodies that resided in Cheviot Cemetery is a little more vague. It seems there were no burials in the southern portion of the lot so the original lot finished in 1956 didn’t disturb any buried remains. In 1975, when the City of Cheviot purchased the land, the cemetery grounds were fully excavated. Due to the age of the buried bodies and wooden caskets they were housed in, not many physical remains were uncovered. At most, there were random bones and pieces. Since there were no full skeletons and no way to determine who the bones belonged to, the City of Cheviot buried the discovered remains in a mass grave at the Bridgetown Cemetery. The next chapter to the Cheviot Cemetery will be told later this year.
The Cheviot Historical Society intends to erect the two dozen stones with a memorial plaque. This memorial will be located in the rear of the still standing, Westwood Baptist Cemetery, across the street and north of the Municipal Parking Lot