Stories about the so-called Polk County Poor Farm and Poor Farm Cemetery have been around for years. A new chapter may be written for the cemetery. The outcome will be determined at an upcoming meeting of the Polk County Environmental Services Meeting.
Recently, the Environmental Services Committee was approached by Matt Connell, who is in partnership with Ed Bixby of Destination Destiny, a New Jersey-based company that offers natural burials. Natural burial is an alternative method of burial that does not involve embalming, concrete coffin vaults, or modern coffins.
Destination Destiny hopes to provide an eco-friendly burial alternative to the Poor Farm Cemetery, also known as Amery Prairie View Cemetery, located on the corner of 110thAve. and 120e St., northwest of the town of Amery, behind the site of the old poor Polk County farm.
Connell said: “Our goal is to focus on the environment and get people to step away from the toxic practices of modern burial and make the last decision of life a big one.”
Connell said they had been maintaining the property since March and were coming to speak to the county about their plans as they were made aware of a complaint.
He said he heard the county was claiming ownership of the property. âHowever, our own headline research doesn’t show this to be the case,â Connell said.
In his effort to be part of the green burial movement, Connell, who resides in the Twin Cities, said he came across the Prairie View property on his way to his in-laws’ property on Loveless. Lake. âOne of the options we had with limited funds was to look for abandoned or neglected cemeteries where we could start under what’s called a hybrid model,â he said.
A hybrid model allows green burials to take place in an old cemetery, which cannot be considered entirely green because you cannot prove whether the people who are currently buried there have been embalmed or not.
He said he did some research and found the property to be the old poor farm cemetery in Polk County. “This is where the people who lived at the Poor Farm at the time were buried when they died,” said Connell.
He said he assumed the property belonged to the county, but to satisfy his curiosity he did some title research and did some research at the Polk County Historical Society. âI couldn’t find any information about it. Not just if he belonged to the county, because we haven’t seen any evidence of that. It was in a title abyss. He didn’t even have a Package ID, âConnell said.
He said he then started asking neighbors what they knew about the property and that they had no information. Connell said despite the name Polk County Poor Farm Cemetery, it did not appear to be claimed. âAs small as this place was, we saw an opportunity to start offering natural burials, hoping to expand,â he said.
The company is hoping to purchase a property adjacent to the cemetery to expand and Connell said she has also seen an opportunity to restore pollinator habitat. âIt’s a major problem in the Midwest where wildflowers are all but wiped out. In turn, monarchs and bees suffer. We spoke with a company called Lupine Gardens in Amery to pack this place full of wildflowers, âsaid Connell.
Connell said: âWe know where the 33 people are buried in the cemetery. However, legend has it that the graveyard was actually once next to the house called Old Poor Farm and was moved to the current location, so we suspect it could be a mass grave situation, but we know where these people are buried.
He shared that they had already built walking trails around the cemetery, put up fences and cleaned up buckthorn. âWe have had tones of support from the neighbors,â Connell said.
Connell says neighbors say they never saw anyone from the county on the property.
He said he was a little surprised when he got a call from Polk County about the complaint. âOur hope is not only to provide a valuable service, but to be a friend and partner of Polk County. We don’t want anything more than to work together, âsaid Connell.
He said they had considered making a deal with the county to provide plots for the homeless to continue the Poor Farm tradition.
Maps presented at the meeting show Polk County owns the property. The ownership of Poor Farm as a whole was taken over by the county in 1949 following a tax foreclosure.
There are many mysteries surrounding the property as to whether or not it was run like a poor farm before the county took possession of it.
There is some debate as to whether the cemetery existed before or after the poor Polk County farm because there is a gravestone dating from 1909. Connell’s argument is that a cemetery cannot be seized, so the county technically did not own it. âWe believe the first burial in this area was around 1872. This is all due to research conducted at the Historical Society,â Connell said. He said there were Native Americans buried there, as well as babies and a former professional baseball player.
It appears that when Polk County sold the Poor Farm in 1965, it ruled out the cemetery.
Questions were raised by the environment committee as to whether Connell’s hope was to continue to maintain the property or to purchase the property. âWe are open to options, but ideally we would like to continue working as is,â said Connell.
Although Connell said no funerals have yet taken place at the property through their company and they haven’t even advertised as they wanted to spruce it up first, the website of Destination Destiny already has the property listed as an option for those looking to purchase plots. When a committee member said he could see it on the website, Connell replied, “It’s over there, but we’re not showing up on Google yet or anything until. until we cleared up this situation. “
One committee member said: âIt looks like in March you started mowing the lawn and declared it your own. “
Connell replied, “Basically what my partner has done in the past is take these abandoned cemeteries and claim the land and revive the cemetery association and place yourself there you can take over. primarily as caretaker and owner. “
The committee wondered if they could even legally sell the property or if they could enter into a memorandum of understanding to allow Connell to continue using the property. They decided to ask legal counsel to review their options and to come back to the subject at the next Environmental Services meetings on November 17 at 9 a.m.
The county board supervisors who make up the Environmental Services Committee include Kim O’Connell-Chairman, Brad Olson Vice-Chairman, Tracy LaBlanc, Sharon Kelly and Doug Route.