Wesleyan Cemetery, originally about 24 acres (currently about 20) located at 4003 Colerain Avenue, is one of Northside’s jewels. There are veterans of every war the United States has fought buried at Wesleyan. It is one of the oldest cemeteries in continuous operation in Cincinnati, was the first integrated cemetery in the Cincinnati area, and was the first in Cincinnati designed in park like fashion, with winding paths and bordering trees. Much of its history, however, has been plagued by neglect and misuse. That is about to change!
Let’s start with a brief history. In 1843, because Wesley Chapel’s Catherine Street Cemetery in downtown Cincinnati wanted the space to start Wesley College, a Methodist church group purchased the 24 acres on Colerain from Timothy Kirby for a cemetery with a caretaker’s house and chapel. (The cemetery presently has no connection with the Methodists). It originally was a beautiful graveyard, but even by 1914 it was experiencing neglect. Compounding the problem was the city’s failure , until 1953, to annex the cemetery grounds, so many issues were not resolved. By then, concerns had risen about unmarked and mismarked graves. In 1975 and again in 1992 families of veterans fought with caretakers to find the sites of their ancestor’s graves. Claims of unearthed bones in discarded dirt piles and reselling of burial plots surfaced. Funds earmarked for Wesleyan Cemetery went missing.
“Friends of Wesleyan”, composed of concerned and dedicated families of those buried there, formed a group to maintain the cemetery but the time and expense of this Herculean task proved too much. Eventually, through court proceedings, the City of Cincinnati was ordered to maintain Wesleyan. In 2001, the caretaker’s home and 3 acres of land were sold through a sheriff’s sale when the last Trustee took a mortgage against these parcels and failed to pay the mortgage.
In September, 2013, the Veteran and Military Family Advocacy Network (V.A.M.F.A.N.) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital adopted Wesleyan Cemetery. In addition to its 3 large clean up events a year coinciding with Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans’ Day, its goal is to work with the Northside Community to ensure the cemetery is kept in a manner respectful of those interred there, and pleasing to their families.
The first event this year is the Spring Clean-up, scheduled for Saturday, April 5, from 9-1. Bring your own clean up tools if you can. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful will be there with plenty of tools as well. Call Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, 352-4385, to register for this event (if possible), or just show up!
The current “Wesleyan” group that has been meeting is composed of the following: Stefanie Sunderland, Kathy Dahl and Martha Dourson, from Northside; Brooke Lehenbauer from Keep Cincinnati Beautiful; and Tim Kellard from the City of Cincinnati; Michelle Zdunic, representing VAMFAN. Contact Martha Dourson with questions and for the opportunity to get involved, including donations to advance this effort.
Look for the next article in May’s Northsider Monthly detailing the work being done on Wesleyan’s historical significance, improvements slated for the cemetery headstones and landscaping and even a wish list for Wesleyan!
By Martha Dourson
Martha Dourson is the previous community council president, and ironically, was able to purchase her house on Kirby at a sheriff’s sale due to a previous Wesleyan Trustee ‘s mortgage troubles.