Digging up the past: Pre-Civil War cemetery rediscovered, restored

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Work was recently completed to restore McCord Cemetery in Whitestown. The restoration is expected to preserve a piece of Boone County history for generations to come, thanks to the efforts of local historian Mike Hancock and the Worth Township Trustees Office, among others.

In December 2016, Whitestown officials planned to incorporate that area of the town, which included the cemetery, into a planned unit development. Hancock contacted the town’s planning department to ensure officials knew it was part of a pre-Civil War site that had been lost to the woods and underbrush, but he said he wasn’t confident it would be protected.

“Every single acre of old farm ground seems to be getting covered with new residential development,” Hancock said. “There’s not a whole lot of history and heritage left, so what is left I want to protect and preserve and make sure future generations can see what was there at one time.”

Mike Hancock stands next to an intact grave marker prior to the restoration of McCord Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of Mike Hancock)

Hancock said the site dates back to the early 1840s, about 10 years prior to Whitestown’s founding, and has between 44 and 54 graves. The earliest grave is that of Thomas J. McCord, who died Sept. 23, 1843, at age 3. The most recent grave is that of Elizabeth Nease, who died Feb. 27, 1888, at age 79.

Hancock said he and his wife, Cheryl, spent hours attempting to find records of the cemetery in legal documentation but came up empty. Although there was likely record of the burial site at the time of its establishment, a fire that roared through Lebanon in 1856 likely destroyed any relevant documents.

In 2019, Hancock was able to contact the current owner of the property and coordinated a transfer of the deed to the Township Trustee’s Office while ensuring the cemetery was properly surveyed and reestablishing a legal record of the burial ground on official county documents.

When the Worth Township Trustees Office acquired the deed on Feb. 22, 2019, the process to restore the cemetery began. However, the availability of experts at Stonehugger Cemetery Restoration became another challenge as the project moved forward. The trustees didn’t receive a quote for the project until August 2021.

“Because of COVID, they weren’t doing a lot, so there was a long delay before they finally were able to come and meet with us and look over the project,” Hancock said. “It was the following year before we could actually get on their schedule and get it done. Just getting the restoration scheduled and started took quite a while.”

Restoration finally began in summer 2022, with support of the Worth Township Trustee and Advisory Board. The restoration company located buried grave markers, cleaned and reattached them. Badly broken or unreadable headstones had to be pieced back together like a puzzle.

Restoration workers did more than just restore the stones, Hancock said. They also completed paperwork to document the names of the dead and worked up genealogies to the best of their ability. Hancock noted ongoing genealogical research might make historical connections between the deceased and their descendants who may still live in the area.

“These are the earliest settlers that came up from Tennessee and Kentucky and tried to settle this area when it was nothing but swamp and wilderness,” Hancock said. “These people had a really tough go of it trying to settle this land, and if it hadn’t been for them getting that started and working everything up, the entire history of this area may have been different.”

Hancock is a fifth-generation resident of Whitestown, so restoring the cemetery was important to him.

“My dad still lives in the farmhouse that was built by my great great granddad in 1866,” Hancock said. “It’s important to me that I help protect and preserve the Whitestown I knew growing up so my grandkids can see it one day.”

For more on the McCord Cemetery, visit whitestownhistory.com/cemeteries.html or the Worth Township site, worthtownship.org/mccord-cemetery.html.

An employee of Stonehugger Cemetery Restoration works to restore a gravestone.
(Photo courtesy of the Worth Township Trustees Office)

Touring history

McCord Cemetery, a piece of pre-Civil War Boone County history, is in Worth Township. According to Mike Hancock, those who would like to visit the historic site can reach out to the Worth Township Trustee’s Office for more information. The office address is 2965 575 E. in Whitestown. The phone number is 317-769-3560.

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