History in the Hills: Notables from the Union Cemetery | News, Sports, Jobs


This time of year is so much fun for me and my family. We love getting out into nature and enjoying the fall colors and cool weather. With sweaters, apple cider and pumpkins, we’re doing our best to get into the spirit of the season. Naturally, at this time of year, our thoughts also turn to Halloween and the scary stories of the past. No Halloween season would be complete without a visit to our local cemetery, and we are lucky to have a magnificent one in Steubenville.

I’ve written about Union Cemetery before, but its history is so rich and varied that it’s always worth a look. According to the Union Cemetery website, the cemetery was established in 1854 with the purchase of the 48-acre William Huscroft farm. In 1877 the cemetery consisted of 143 acres and in 1905 the cemetery purchased an additional 80 acres. In 1930, the cemetery sold 99 acres to the town of Steubenville, which is now Beatty Park. Originally, the main entrance to the cemetery was from Lincoln Avenue at Beatty. Today the cemetery is a total of 199 acres.

Union Cemetery was built at a time when the rural cemetery movement was gaining momentum in this country. This movement from crowded old cemeteries to large, picturesque cemeteries was intended to entice visitors to use the new spaces as essentially public parks. The Union Cemetery, with its winding roads, beautiful sculptures and monuments, fulfills this role perfectly. Although I don’t see people today going to the cemetery for a party or a picnic, it still draws us in to take a walk through history. The old town of Steubenville cemetery was located on South Fourth Street where the Grant School was erected. But by the 1850s it was crowded and a solution was needed. Upon the establishment of the Union, the remains of those in the original cemetery were moved and reinterred at the current location. Notable people, including Bazaleel Wells, founder of Steubenville, were among those relocated.

Today, several important personalities are buried among the majestic trees and the hidden valleys of this magnificent cemetery. Many of the people I have mentioned in these columns lie there, including Eliphalet Andrews, painter, sculptor; William Macdonald, famous opera singer; and Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first African American to play professional baseball.

The list of members of the United States Congress is long and many were in office during the most important historical events in the history of our nation. A brief list compiled by the Find a Grave website lists more than six buried congressmen. An important person among these six was Joseph John Gill. Gill was born in 1846 in Barnesville, studied law at the University of Michigan, and moved to Steubenville in 1868. He became a Jefferson County attorney in 1869 and went on to serve numerous congressional terms, eventually resigning in 1903. According to his page on Finding a Grave, “he is credited with providing the financial support necessary for the construction of Steubenville’s first hospital” which was named Gill Memorial Hospital in his honor.

Other notable burials include football player Calvin Jones. Jones was born in Steubenville in 1933 and played professional football in the Canadian Football League. While at the University of Iowa, Jones won the coveted Outland Trophy, making him the first African American to win the award. In 1954, he became the first African-American college football player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was also listed on the 1954 and 1955 American football team. After college, Jones was drafted in 1956 by the Detroit Lions, but as African American players did not receive the same salary as their counterparts whites, he turned down the job and went to the CFL instead. Sadly, in December 1956, Calvin was killed in a plane crash on Slesse Mountain in Canada. His remains were taken back to Steubenville for burial in Union Cemetery. According to Jones’ Wikipedia page, when they learned of the tragedy, the University of Iowa football team dedicated their first Rose Bowl game in 1957 against Oregon State to Calvin. The game was a win for Iowa, and they sent the ball to Jones’ mom here in Steubenville.

These people are just a few of the prominent residents of the Union Cemetery. On October 22, from 3 to 5 p.m., there will be a walking tour of the cemetery noting many of the significant burials. The tour leaders will be Susan Guy, Jeff Evans, Flora VerStraten-Merrin and myself. We’ll end up in Section P to begin with. At the end of the walking tour, guests will be encouraged to gather at Beatty Park in the shelter at 6:00 p.m. to tell stories and rejoice. This is sure to be an event to get you into the spirit of the season.

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