Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, May 25, 2003, pg. 2
As we observe Memorial Day this weekend, we go “on the road” this week with another story about South Albion. The South Albion Cemetery is a place rich in the pioneer history of our area, as it contains the remains of the first settlers who came here from New York and Pennsylvania in the 1830s when Southern Michigan was still wilderness. The cemetery is located just east of the southeast corner of 29 Mile Road and J Drive South. It was established in the back of the farm of pioneer settler Seth Knowles, whose house was located along present-day M-60.
The cemetery consists of a combination of old upright-style tombstones, and fieldstones that mark grave sites. The earliest tombstone is dated 1843, but rocks mark the graves of earlier burials. The last recorded burial at this remote cemetery was in 1920, of a Ludwig Toeppe who has no marker. Other than that the last burial is 1897. Out of about 370 available “surveyed” lot spaces, around 90 are known to be occupied. 70 of those have been identified.
There is at least one Civil War veteran buried here, Willis N. Benham (1840-1863), a member of the 6th Michigan Infantry Company I, who was killed in battle near New Orleans, Louisiana on February 28, 1863. Sadly, someone put a “Confederate Veteran” flagmarker at his grave because his tombstone stated Louisiana (in the Confederacy) as his death place, without reading further down the stone which gives the name of his Union Army outfit. This marker should really be replaced with a proper Union Army G.A.R. flagmarker. Willis was the son of South Albion pioneers Norman and Eleanor (Crispell) Benham.
The South Albion Cemetery is one place that has kept its pioneer atmosphere. The tombstones sit amidst overgrowth that has been occasionally cleaned up by scout and volunteer groups. Some of the stones that were broken by vandals have been repaired using square-formed tin and placed on the sides to hold the stones up. In recent years a “South Albion Cemetery” sign has been placed on the western boundary, and a flagpole erected. There are old cement steps that were placed there years ago which serve as the cemetery entrance.
Unfortunately, the cemetery records were destroyed years ago in a fire at the home of a township clerk. However, John Kinney has transcribed the remaining 70 tombstones, and has provided the information for this week’s article from his book “Beneath the Old Burr Oak.” The transcriptions are also listed on the www.findagrave.com web site. Under “search for a cemetery” listing, type in “South Albion” and the state “Michigan.” Then click on the name of the cemetery and read the list of interments. It is also known that there have been several “disinterments” as remains were transferred to more established cemeteries and family plots elsewhere.
Funeral services at this cemetery were for the most part conducted by the presiding minister of the South Albion Methodist Episcopal Church, once located on the southwest corner of 29 Mile Road and H Drive South. The Church had its origins in a Sunday School that had been organized in South Albion in 1835. Soon Methodist meetings began, and a church was constructed in 1839 at the 29 Mile Road (South Albion Road) location.
Various “circuit riding preachers” filled the pulpit on Sundays, or later, Albion College ministerial students. One prominent local minister at the Church was the Rev. William Farley (1807-1872) whom we featured in the December 20, 1998 edition of this column. Membership in the church reached 120 members by 1869.
The South Albion M.E. Church fell victim to the growth of churches in nearby Homer, Concord, and Albion. Ironically, the South Albion M.E. Church had sponsored the formation of the church in Homer. More and more residents started going elsewhere for their spiritual needs as roads and modes of transportation improved. Membership declined. In a letter written to the Methodist Conference in 1885, the presiding district elder stated, “The old have died, the young gone west, and the prosperous have united at Concord, Homer and Albion. There is no appointment to be added.” Thus the South Albion Methodist Episcopal Church was closed in 1894. The former church building was eventually moved back on the adjoining farmland and was converted into a barn, where it remains today.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a current photograph of the South Albion Cemetery. Make a visit to that cemetery this Memorial Day weekend. How many of our readers have ancestors buried there?
South Albion Cemetery
Next: BOBBY PARKER
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic