Grace Lawn Cemetery


    The first burial ground for the city of Elkhart was located at the corner of Middlebury and Prairie Streets and was established about the time Elkhart was platted in April 1832. By the early 1860's, it became apparent that the cemetery would not be large enough to serve the growing population of Elkhart. At that time the city of Elkhart began negotiations to buy land for Grace Lawn Cemetery.

    In 1855, John and Charles Rice of New York originally purchased 194.84 acres located in the Section 4 Township 37 Range 5, from Lorenzo Cody and his wife. Soon afterwards, John bought Charles's half of the land. In 1862, John M. Rice, sold eight of these acres, located just east of the river, to the city of Elkhart to use as a cemetery.

    In July 1867, John M. Rice sold 34.65 acres of his land to Eli Conley. In turn Eli Conley, sold part of this acreage to the city of Elkhart for the final portion that make up Grace Lawn Cemetery. Also making up that final portion of Grace Lawn, was acreage sold to the city of Elkhart by John C. and Ann P. Evans. This last portion purchased from Conley and Evans consisted of 5 acres.

    John C. Evans (d. 1902) and Anna P. Straw, his wife (d. 1898), are buried in Block E Lot 14. Eli Conley (d. 1907) and Sarah A. (d. 1914), his wife, are buried in Block P Lot 113. They were both very active in the city of Elkhart. John Evans was a brick mason and built many of the brick structures in early Elkhart. The most notable structure was the Davenport residence which was later owned by G.B. Pratt. Eli Conley was in the real estate business and was one of the promoters of the Bucklen Opera House. It was mainly due to his efforts that the Opera House was built.

    Charles Beardsley (a town trustee) surveyed the original plat for Grace Lawn, donating his service to the city. In return, the cemetery was named after his foster daughter Grace (Mrs. E.L. Clark). Both are buried in Grace Lawn.

    The dedication of Grace Lawn Cemetery took place in 1864, which included the sale of lots at auction. After Grace Lawn was developed in 1864, many bodies from the old Middlebury street cemetery were removed by relatives to Grace Lawn Cemetery. The remainder of these bodies were removed in 1893 and buried in Block Q. Names of those moved are available at the Cemetery Office. Any stones readable are also listed.
    Havilah Beardsley (1795-1856), the founder of Elkhart (having purchased the property in 1832 from Indiana Chief Pierre Moran) was among those bodies moved from the old cemetery. He was buried in the Rufus Beardsley family plot located in Block E Lot 29. Also moved from the old cemetery was George Claybourn, a freed slave from Virginia. George (born about 1785) was in Elkhart as early as 1843 and was listed in both the 1850 and 1860 Elkhart census. He died about 1869.

    In 1918, a beautiful gateway into Grace Lawn Cemetery was built with funds provided by Mrs. Elizabeth Baldwin Beardsley (wife of the then deceased Albert R. Beardsley). Both are buried in the Baldwin-Beardsley mausoleum located in Block E. The gateway, as well as the Beardsley mausoleum, were designed by E. Hill Turnock.

    It has been estimated that over 100 Civil War soldiers are buried in Grace Lawn Cemetery. Given the time this cemetery was formed, this is probably a very conservative estimate.

    In 1947, there were 2,436 individual lot owners, with only a few lots remaining. The sexton's books show 12,669 burials at the end of 1999; however, there are burials listed in the city book which are not recorded in the sexton's book.

    Grace Lawn is the burial place of many men who were instrumental in the building of early Elkhart. Several have already been mentioned. Following are a few of the many early pioneers now resting at Grace Lawn:

Fifteen of the first seventeen Elkhart mayors; Dean Swift, Johnson W. Allen and Charles Beardsley, town trustees who choose the land for Grace Lawn; John Broderick, the first white child born in the village of Elkhart; Silias Baldwin early postmaster and banker, donated monument honoring deceased Civil War Soldiers (now located at the entrance of Rice Cemetery); Emanuel C. Bickel, lawyer, instrumental in establishing the C.E. & M. railway through Indiana, developed Highland Park Addition; Avery Brown, youngest (eight years old) soldier in the Civil War; Orville T. Chamberlain, Captain and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient in the Civil War, lawyer; C.B. Conn, pioneer in the musical instrument industry, mayor, Colonel in Civil War; Benjamin L. Davenport, State senator, bank president, and involved in the building of the Bucklen Hotel (Clifton House); J.K. Gore, Captain in Civil War, Adjutant General of Indiana, postmaster; Franklin L. Miles, physician, father of The Dr. Miles Medical Company; Philo Morehous, founded first bank in Elkhart; F.B. Pratt, founded Elkhart Carriage Company, later known as Elcar Company; D.S. Simonton, building of many early structures in town; and D.S. and S.S. Strong, businessmen.

    The unique monuments seen throughout Grace Lawn are many. Unfortunately, many were vandalized, destroyed or stolen over the years. The design and architecture of these monuments are outstanding and are readily seen through out the cemetery.

* Historical facts provided by Patricia K. Johnson & Jeffrey L. Keim


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