Restoration work continued at Pine Ridge Cemetery in Loda Township recently.
Stonehugger Cemetery Restoration handled the work and restored a portion of the cemetery recently.
Loda Township Supervisor Tom Mueller, joined by several township and cemetery trustees visited the cemetery Sept. 2 to see the work that’s been done.
Mueller praised the Stonehugger’s work and said owner Helen Wildermuth had a great knowledge of cemeteries.
“She’s pretty knowledgable on cemeteries,” he said. “The history and the lore of cemeteries.”
Stonehugger Restoration has worked on cemeteries across the nation and has restored more than 40,000 headstones and monuments.
Restoration work at the cemetery began around 10 years ago with the township bringing in restoration crews every three years or so to repair, restore and even uncover headstones.
Mueller pointed to a pair of headstones that were unearthed during the first restoration efforts in the cemetery.
He said the restoration crew had unearthed a pair of a headstones for siblings who died during a diphtheria epidemic in the 1870’s.
“They were under the ground,” Mueller said.
He said the restoration crew was able to unearth the headstones and return them to their proper place with the rest of their family.
The condition of the cemetery 10 years ago was what inspired the beginning of the restoration work at Pine Ridge Cemetery.
“The cemetery had a lot of headstones that were tilting, toppling and it is a township cemetery and it’s our responsibility to keep it up as well as we can,” Mueller said.
He said the township trustees saw an ad for Stonehugger Cemetery Restoration in a township publication and reached out to them.
The work Stonehugger did at the cemetery drew a great response from township residents.
“We were so happy and we had a such a good response from people in the township,” he said.
Mueller said some people even gave donations to the township to help with the restoration efforts because they had relatives in the cemetery.
“They still come out here and they want to know their relatives are being well cared for,” he said.
Mueller said the difference between the condition of the headstones before and after the restoration work is amazing.
“When they get done it’s just like they’re brand new,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Loda Township Trustee Jerry Weaver was pleased to see his great-grandfather’s headstone had been restored.
“It looks great,” he said.
Weaver said the restoration crews use water and a brush on a drill to clean the headstones, running it up and down until the stone is restored to its former glory. The crews also repair broken headstones using mortar and install new concrete footing under the headstones where necessary to keep the headstones from toppling.
Beyond the aesthetics of restoring the cemetery, Mueller feels that leaving the a cemetery in poor condition with chipped and toppled headstones is an invitation for vandalism.
“This is such a well-cared for cemetery that it would just be a shame to let it go down the drain,” he said.
Mueller also highlighted some of the history of the cemetery, pointing out that a U.S. Civil War general is buried in the cemetery.
Bvt. Brig. General Israel Newton Stiles is interred in the cemetery and even has a plaque located nearby his headstone that discusses his legacy.
A lawyer and Indiana state legislator, Stiles was an ardent opponent of slavery and enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the war. He was captured at the Battle of Malvern Hill and held at Libby Prison. After he was released in a prisoner exchange, he was promoted to major and took part in General William Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and was promoted to brigadier general for his bravery during the Battle of Franklin.
Stiles married Jenny C. Ellis, the daughter of an early Loda settler, and returned to Loda often after the war while serving as an attorney in Chicago, where he was elected city attorney in 1870.
Weaver said the cemetery is home to a great many veterans from various conflicts over the years and their graves are marked.
“You’ve got everything from the Spanish-American War to the two World Wars,” Mueller said. “They’re all out here.”
He said crews had dug up some of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) markers that were placed on the graves of Civil War veterans that had been buried over the years.
Weaver said these veterans names are read off during a Memorial Day service at Pine Ridge Cemetery each year.
Mueller said township government is often considered somewhat obscure and, aside from road maintenance, people don’t really know about the work they do.
He said projects like this are a way to show people what the township can do to the help the area.
“People don’t really know what we do,” he said. “This is one of things we can do that people can actually see what the township is.”
Mueller said this is the third time Stonehugger has come out to work at the cemetery over the course of 10 years.
He said the ongoing efforts are a combined township cemetery board and township government project.
Weaver said Pine Ridge was a private cemetery at one time and the township took over the stewardship of it after the owners were having a difficult time coming up with the money to care for it.
Mueller and Cemetery Trustee Susan Lamb also pointed out the sidewalk that goes through the countryside and connects the cemetery to Loda.
Lamb said the sidewalk’s never been restored.
Mueller said funeral processions would use the sidewalk to make their way from the village to the cemetery.
The restoration efforts at Pine Ridge Cemetery are an ongoing project, Mueller said.
He estimates it will be at least another decade until it is finished.
Township Trustee Marty Vance feels that the restoration work will be an ongoing process that will continue for many years.
He said they call in the restoration crews every three years or so since the township and cemetery board doesn’t have the money to do it every year.
“We couldn’t go through and do it all at once,” he said.
Mueller echoed Vance’s point.
“It’s not cheap,” he said. “Basically, every time they come out it’s $10,000.”
Vance said the township gives $5,000 and the cemetery board gives $5,000.
Mueller said they also get some donations for the restoration project.
He said the township appreciates these donations, which he said often come from out-of-state residents who have family members buried at the cemetery.
Mueller said the scope of each restoration effort is laid out ahead of the crews arriving with small red flags being used to mark headstones that are need of cleaning or repair.
Weaver credited Mueller with spearheading and overseeing the restoration efforts for the township.
“He has looked into it, suggested it and brought it before the board and we said go for it,” Weaver said.
He said the crews usually take on 25-30 headstones during each visit.
Weaver said the work that has already been completed has made a significant difference.
“You just look around now and you say ‘Look how nice it looks,’” he said.