MOORHEAD, Iowa (AP) – On a secluded ridge surrounded by trees and corn is a unique piece of Monona County history that few seem to know about.
Few know the history of the southern Jordanian cemetery, and even those who have spent years researching the tiny plot, where members of a small group of African Americans are buried. region after the Civil War, have many questions.
The Sioux City Journal reports that local history buffs hope that listing the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year will lead to more publicity on the site and help them find answers to questions that people like Judy Ehlers have been asking themselves for years.
“It’s important to me because there is no place like this,” said Ehlers, who grew up three miles down the road and lives near Soldier. “There just aren’t that many black cemeteries in Iowa.”
Chair of the Monona County Historic Preservation Commission, Ehlers worked on the National Register application, a designation she said could help provide funding to erect signage to publicize the site. and direct visitors to the remote location.
These signs could attract more visitors, and maybe one of them will show up with key information to solve some of the mysteries of history at this picturesque site in the middle of the Loess Hills.
Any story in the media leads to a few new inquiries and comments, said Sharon Holverson, of Moorhead, a historic member of the committee with Ehlers.
At some point, she believes, the publicity will lead to a descendant of those settlers from long ago. It certainly piqued the curiosity of locals, she said.
“We were surprised that people feel as strongly about this place as they do,” Holverson said of the reaction after the cemetery was granted National Register status.
Founded in 1882, the cemetery sits between Moorhead, Turin and Soldier and is maintained by the Jordan Township Board of Directors. Located at the intersection of 260th Street and Peach Avenue in the Moorhead countryside and nestled among the trees, it is a peaceful place where few passing vehicles disturb the gentle sound of leaves rustling in the breeze.
Not much is known about the 60 to 90 black settlers who made their home in this region. Ehlers said that Adam Miers, a white man from Ohio, settled here in 1856 and then brought many settlers here, employing some of them on his farm.
Historians know that the settlers, believed to be freed slaves, arrived sometime after the Civil War. There is no vestige of the settlement, which, according to various stories, consisted of canoes in the hills, mud houses and more conventional dwellings.
Ehlers said it was not known why the settlers left. She suspects they have gone to more populated areas in search of better jobs. Most had disappeared by 1910.
While they were here, Miers ceded land for the cemetery, which has been known over the years as the Black Cemetery or Black Cemetery. It is believed that 20 people are buried here, including two in 1884, according to the only two tombstones on which the date of death is visible. Two white women who lived nearby were buried here much more recently, one in 1988, the other earlier this year.
Ehlers hopes that further research of the cemetery records will reveal the exact number of graves in the cemetery, but even if she can find this information, locating the graves will remain a challenge. Less than half have markers, and most of them are broken or the names in them can no longer be read. Depressions in the ground indicate other possible graves.
Ehlers and Holvorson said part of the mystery may have its roots in racial prejudice. They have heard stories of interracial marriages between black and white settlers. Over the years, some white families have been unwilling to admit relationships and may have removed tombstones in order to keep them a secret.
This is where the registration of the cemetery on the national register could pay off. If this can lead to an influx of grants, local historians would like to hire someone to locate the graves. Repairing and replacing damaged gravestones is also on the wishlist.
With the historic designation now in place, Ehlers is no longer concerned that the cemetery and the people buried there will be forgotten.
“It’s something unique and I didn’t want it to be lost, and I was worried that in 50 years it might not be here anymore,” she said.