Healing Stuart

Discovering & Restoring Stuart Cemetery, Four Mile Township, Polk County, IA

Help! I Can’t See Previous Comments

I know I have at least one comment asking me if I plan any more posts.  The answer is yes.

I apologize for the long hiatus. I was dealing with family matters, i.e., taking care of my mother. Then last year Mom and I broke down housekeeping (i.e., sorting through stuff with other family members) and moved out of the house, Mom going into assisted living, which she loved, and me into a senior living apartment in a smaller city about an hour away. My wonderful mother passed away earlier this year, so I have also been dealing with the grieving process. As part of that process I am restarting this blog.

I know that most of those interred in Stuart Cemetery are related. My goal is to be specific about grave locations and encourage living descendants to post comments about ancestors to help us see them as people and not just a name on a grave stone. As professional genealogists will tell you, a name is not a person, it’s just a name. In genealogy, a name becomes a person by finding and obtaining certified copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates; finding federal and state censuses; obituaries; and other relevant documents. These types of documents are used in family history too, but often there are also family stories passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes the stories are factual and sometime, like children sitting in a circle playing the Telephone game, aspects of the story are subtly changed as the story is passed from person to person. When you get 3+ generations down the line the story can be anywhere from mildly flawed to completely wrong.

I also want to start a project that would identify gravestone bones so descendants can identify their family members’ graves. This is something I cannot do myself because any type alternate grave identification must be requested by a family member. Stay tuned, we need to cure the gravestone bone epidemic in Stuart Cemetery.

In the next few days I will be posting Meeting Stuart (Part 2) and What a Difference a New Season Makes.


White Bronze

What happens when you start a blog then get smacked in the face with writer’s block? It’s a long time between posts. (Enough said!)

 As a Find-A-Grave photo volunteer I get excited when the monument I am hunting is made of white bronze. Why? Not only are white bronze monuments beautiful, but it is easier to take a picture in which the birth and death information is legible.

 The Wise Geek web site describes white bronze is an alloy of copper, tin and zinc – either mainly tin or mainly zinc depending on the purpose for which it will be used: jewelry or grave markers respectively. While another states white bronze used for grave markers were made entirely of zinc.

According to wiseGeek.com:

 White Bronze Memorial Showing Hollow Interior.

White Bronze Memorial Showing Hollow Interior.

For jewelry, white bronze is an ideal substitute for nickel and silver because of its appearance and chemical properties. Itis nonmagnetic, very smooth, and virtually nonporous. It is also highly resistant to corrosion and breakdown. White bronze also offers one advantage that silver does not namely that it will not tarnish. From the 1870s to the 1910s, white bronze was used as a raw material for grave markers by certain manufacturers. This type was mostly zinc, rather than the mainly tin alloy used in jewelry. It was called white bronze as a marketing ploy to make it sound more attractive. Grave markers made of this material usually took on a pale gray or pale blue appearance and stood up  to the elements better than stone markers because they were less porous. These grave markers were actually hollow, and consisted of vertical panels held together by screws at the corners. It is said that outlaws sometimes took advantage of this fact and hid stolen goods inside the tall, hollow monuments. [1]

Image of White Bronze Statue on a Monumnetal Bronze Business Card.

Monumnetal Bronze Business Card.

An article on the Kent County Civil War Monument and Fountain Restoration Project web site implies white bronze is not an alloy but is made from pure zinc. On the web site’s Monumental Bronze Company page are a series of delightful articles about white bronze and the company responsible for creating and manufacturing it. Two of them were edited from Barbara Rotundo’s chapter “Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company” in Cemeteries and Gravesmarkers: Voices of American Culture edited by Richard Meyer. The third article is taken from Samuel Orcutt’s History of Bridgeport & Stratford, Volume 2 while the fourth is a compilation of three articles from the Connecticut Post dated March 8-11, 1939.

 But what about the durability of white bronze? Samuel Orcutt states, ” The one great claim of the is certainly great need as exhibited by the decaying stones in all the cemeteries and burying places in the United States.” [2]

 Barabara Rotund adds:

 And what about preservation? What is the condition of these century-old white bronze memorials? Have the claims for durability held up? Given the strong language of their claim, the people associated with Monumental Bronze should have expected some dissatisfaction. . . . So far as damage by weather and pollutants like acid rain is concerned, time has upheld the glowing testimonials by chemists about the durability and imperviousness of zinc. The details of letters and emblems are as sharp as ever and the blue-gray surface is unblemished [3]

 In Ecclesiastes Solomon tells us there is nothing new under the sun. History bares this out as well. Does this quote from the Connecticut Post dated March 8, 1939, sound familiar?

 Increased taxation and governmental restrictions will end the 69-years career of the Monumental Bronze Company . . . once known throughout the world for its manufacture of metal monuments, has filed dissolution papers in Superior Court and is disposing of its equipment.

From the Connecticut Post March 11, 1930:

Kent County, Michigan Civil War Memorial

Kent County, Michigan Civil War Memorial

The Monumental Bronze Company, passing into the industrial history of Bridgeport, will leave its “footprints” on the battlefields of the world as well as in many cities, towns, and hamlets of America. Once a thriving business, the 69-year-old metal monument firm has molded hundreds of memorials, which have become shrines for war-stricken peoples. France, Gettysburg, Vicksburg – all recorded for posterity – have Bridgeport-made monuments rising over the graves and scenes of great struggles. In America, the company’s records show that its soldiers and sailors statues are standing on village and city greens in 31 of 48 states. [4]


Memorial in Elm Grove Cemetery, Des Moines, Iowa

Memorial in Elm Grove Cemetery, Des Moines, Iowa

 White bronze monuments are beautiful and durable. They have literally stood the test of time yet the words and figures on them are as legible as the day they were cast. They preserve the memorial tribute written on them better than the white limestone monuments most often used for nineteenth century gravestones.

 Now that we know more about White Bronze let’s return to David and Elizabeth Stuart.

 [1] “What is White Bronze, Civilwarmonument. org, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-white-bronze.htm (Accessed October 20, 2012)

[2] Orcutt, Samuel, History of Bridgeport and Stratford, Vol. 2, http://www. Civilwarmonument. org/monumental_bronze. htm (Accessed October 20, 2012).

[3] Rotundo, Barbara, “Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company” [4] “The End of An American Company,” Civilwarmonument. org, last modified October 2009, http://www.civilwarmonument.org/monumental_bronze.htm

Meeting Stuart (Part 1)

Before going any further, I would like to introduce you to David Stuart and his wife, Elizabeth. As you may recall from my last post, “A Trip to The IGS,” David Stuart deeded the land for Stuart Cemetery and offered it a place where people could be buried free of charge.

I found a short biography of Elizabeth and David Stuart. It was among Four Mile Township biographies on IA GenWeb/Polk web site. Marion John Rice transcribed the biographies from The History of Polk County, Iowa: Containing a History of the County Its Cities, Towns, &c [sic]. (He copyrighted his transcription file and gives permission for it to be posted to any site that offers free access to all.)

STUART, ELIZABETH-Farmer, section 1, P. 0. Rising Sun. Was born in Roanoke county, North Carolina, August 13, 1815, and when fourteen years of age moved to Clark county, Indiana. From there she went to Adams county, Illinois, and to this county, in March, 1847. She married, June 14, 1844, to David Stuart, who was born in Greenbrier county, Virginia, Sept 15, 1811, and died November 28, 1865, on the farm she now occupies. This farm he entered from the government, and it consists of eighty acres of land. She has had eleven children, nine of whom are living. Two daughters, single, are living at home. [1]

 The biography is listed under Elizabeth’s name because David died prior to the publication of the book.

 [1] Rice, Marion John. The History of Polk County, Iowa: Containing a History of The County, Its Cities, Towns, &c. Rootsweb.Ancestry.com.  http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~iabiog/polk/h1880/h1880.htm (accessed October 6, 2012).

 Note: After four plus years using APA style while working on my Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction degree and related practicum, I am trying to learn Chicago style. If any of you are familiar with Chicago style and if I have not referenced the web page correctly please leave a comment with your correction. Thank you in advance.

A Trip to The IGS

I continued to walk Stuart over the next few days, but felt increasingly hampered in identifying many of the headstones I documented. I decided it was time to find additional help. I gifted myself with an annual membership to the Iowa Genealogical Society (IGS) then headed over to see if they had any records for Stuart Cemetery.

 The IGS is located at 628 E. Grand Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa. Their resources reside in a Tardis-like office; seemingly bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. When you enter you find yourself surrounded by bookshelves chock-full of books and other resources you could happily lose yourself in for hours and hours.

 Thanks to help of one of IGS’s wonderful volunteers, I located cemetery records for Polk County including Stuart Cemetery. Not the plat book, but a record of someone who walked Stuart  the past before so many of the gravestones went missing or were broken. I felt as if had found the Holy Grail! Armed with photocopies of the cemetery record, I headed home to compare them to my notes.

 I am indebted to the unnamed person who provided IGS with is record of Stuart Cemetery. It includes a short description and history.

 Stuart Cemetery is located in Section 13 of Four Mile Township. The land was given by David Stuart, who settled in Polk County in 1847. He deeded the land to the township with the understanding that anyone could be buried there without charge. Four Mile Township continues to maintain the cemetery.

Four Mile Township With Seciton 13 Circled in Red

Following the cemetery description is an explanation about the absence of the plat map and that the map supplied with the record is “only a drawing showing the cemetery as it is shaped and the location.”

 When my anonymous benefactor walked Stuart  she or he labeled the first row in both sections as the one at the back cemetery closest to the fence. I found this interesting as the lion’s share of the older stones are at the rows closest to the SE 78th Street. Newer interments tend to be toward the back of the cemetery. According to my contact at IAGenWeb, deciding where label the first row is a personal decision when walking a cemetery. What is more important is being consistent in how you record the stones.

The records from the previous Stuart walker would allow me to fill in the gaps in my own.

Myth Busting Stuart

Adair County, Iowa

   There are several misconceptions about Stuart Cemetery I would like to clear up.

Stuart, IA and Guthie County

By  far the most frequent misconception is that Stuart Cemetery is in Stuart, Iowa. Nothing could be further from the truth. The city of Stuart, Iowa actually straddles the line between Guthrie County, and Adair County. To the best of my knowledge, the only cemetery actually in Stuart, Iowa is Calvary Cemetery, which is located in the portion of the city falling within Adair County.


Polk County, Iowa


Stuart Cemetery is located in Polk County, Iowa, east of Pleasant Hill.  



Another misconception is that Stuart Cemetery is located in and maintained by the city of Des Moines, Iowa. Would that it were  so. All cemeteries in Des Moines are maintained by the city Department of Parks and Recreation. As mentioned in an earlier, Stuart Cemetery is located in a rural part of southeast Polk County not lying within the city limits of either Des Moines or Pleasant Hill and is maintained by Four Mile Township. (The map on the right shows Four Mile Township. The “1” on the right-hand side is the location of Stuart Cemetery.)

A third misconception is that Stuart Cemetery is not an active cemetery. This is also false. Although they are infrequent, Four Mile Township does provide openings and closings for new burials.

 Myth Busting Complete!

Walking Stuart

Sometimes when we least expect it . . . “life happens” and our scheduled activities get shoved to the side for a while. I’ve found myself in this mode for about six weeks. Blogs and other priorities have had to wait, but I’ve learned that just as quickly “Normal” (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) returns.

 In other words, I’m back and ready to continue Healing Stuart. When last we met, I paused in my narrative to thank to mentors/encouragers. Back to our story . . .


 Shortly after the day I found a stone that had been pushed over and others totally hidden among clumps of daylily leaves (See: Heartbroken), I returned home to find an email from the IAGenWeb contact for Polk County. It was a reply to my email about a correction I needed to make for one of the photos I had uploaded to the site. In my reply I told her about my concern for Stuart Cemetery and my intention to “walk the cemetery” as there was no extant plat book.  

Walking a cemetery involves starting a specific point and documenting the information on each gravestone row by row, giving each stone a row and space number. Describing spaces between stones or rows is also important because it means further research may be necessary to discover if there are no graves in that location to begin with, the stones had been completely demolished or stolen at some point in the past, or if no stone was placed on the grave at the time of interment. (Stuart Cemetery has many such spaces).

 In response I received a wonderful email giving me pointers on walking a cemetery. She also described the type of documentation she would like to have on Iowa GenWeb for all Polk County, Iowa cemeteries. She included an Excel spreadsheet to aid me in documenting the results of walking Stuart.

 I started walking Stuart the next day armed with pen, paper and clipboard but I soon became discouraged due to the number of stones broken of at ground level. Was there some way to find out who had be buried in these graves?

Mentors and Exhorters

I’m going to pause my journal entries to shine my first spotlight on two women who have encouraged me in this blog.

The first is Nancy Hendrickson creator of AncestorNews.com. I found through her book, Cemetery Research on The Internet: A Genealogical Guide. I downloaded the Kindle edition. It is a small book chock-full of information. (More on this book later – I promise). At the end of the book she urged readers to visit her web site to learn more about her work and how she can create a genealogy blog for you. I sent her a message explaining I’d thought about about starting the Healing Stuart Cemetery and describing my vision.  She thought my project was wonderful and prompted me to use WordPress for my blog.  Upon her advice, I came here and jumped in with both feet. She also held my hand by providing  feedback to my first blog post. Thank you, Nancy. Without you, Healing Stuart would  not exist.

 The second woman is Linda Jean Limes Ellis. She contacted me by email after I posted a picture of an ancestor  on the Iowa GenWeb page for Elm Grove Cemetery, which is just down the road from where I live. We exchanged all sorts of information. I sent her copies of my photographs as well as  a link to this blog. In turn, she invited me to her blog about cemetery preservation in Ohio. I accepted and  look what I found on my first visit here! I am truly honored  to have Healing Stuart spotlighted on Linda’s blog. Thank you for your post, Linda. Your kind words inspired me more than you know.

When I first received the vision Healing Stuart, I didn’t know whether it would be beneficial to others. Would anyone want to read it?. Through Nancy and Linda’s encouragement I’ve discovered the answer is yes. People do care about small, almost forgotten cemeteries and chronicling their plight is worthwhile.

 I have such a big story to tell about StuartCemetery, I will be back here  writing much more often.


I already felt badly for little StuartCemetery. It seemed to have an inordinate amount of damage for its size.  Between broken or damaged headstones and stone encompassed by daylilies, Stuart seemed to be crying, “Help!” Then I saw this.


 This was the final straw. The cumulative effect of everything I had seen broke my heart. This hallowed place need someone to look after it. I knew my job here wouldn’t be done when I finished taking pictures. I needed to find some way to help restore this place.

I didn’t know if I was sad, angry or both. If I was angry it was at the circumstances not people. I couldn’t be angry at the caretaker. It’s possible he inherited the situation and felt as overwhelmed as I did. I couldn’t be angry with the township recorder for similar reasons.

 I continued checking each headstone in each row for names on my photo request list, taking pictures when I found one. I drove away I was filled with conviction to heal Stuart. But where to start . . .

More Scabs, Wounds and Scars

  For the  most part headstones in the south section are in better shape than those in the north section. The north section has fewer of the soft limestone headstones than in the north section.  This did not mean, however, there were no condition problems in this section.

As I worked row by row from the back of the section toward the road the stones looked to be in good condition until I reached tenth row.  The first four stones were small grayish ones all of which were Stuarts. I was not familiar with this type of stone. Something else was odd. All four of the stones had areas of the inscription that looked like they had been eaten away. I took pictures and made notes. Ultimately, i had to confirm names as well as birth and death dates through the Iowa WPA 1930’s Grave Registration Project information for Polk County, Iowa. From left to right the stones were : Oval Stuart 1875-1877, Nettie Stuart 1877-1878, Brice Stuart 1855-1883, and Harvey Stuart 1883-1884.

The Upside Down Stone

In the next row I found a huge clump of daylily leaves. Suspecting there was more I began pushing leaves  aside. To my surprise I found not one, but three headstones; the biggest was near the middle. It appeared to  have fallen  off  or was  pushed off its base and had landed upside down. I attempted to keep the leaves away from the stone with one hand  and to take  a picture of the stone with the other, which proved to be no mean feat. Later, after I had downloaded the picture and flipped it until it was right side up, I was able to confirm it was the headstone for James and Ida Deaton.

To the left of James and Ida’s stone was a footstone “Father” and to the right was the footstone “Mother.”

To the left of the “Father” foot stone I found a small stone close to the ground. With great difficulty I was able to  juggle parting the leaves with snapping a shot of it. I was able to capture just a small section of it.  It was enough to see the letter “N” next to the word “of.” Underneath that was a portion of the next line “& Ida.” The visible portion of the next line was the surname “Deaton” minus the “D.” Under that was part of a date “12, 1892; apparently a birth date. A death date may be below. I deduced this was the grave of an infant son of James and Ida Deaton, for which I had no previous record,  because the word “Infant” was carved on the top of the stone.

To the left of Infant Son Deaton, at the edge of the clump of daylilies, I found the grave for the infant daughters of James & Ida. According to their memorial on Find-A-Grave, they were twin girls who were born and died on June 22, 1882. I wasn’t able to get a picture that day. I will need to lie on my back and sho0t the picture of the metal headstone upside down. The ground under the headstone has settled. Although the headstone had been anchored in a small slab of concrete, it’s leaning so far forward its top nearly touches the ground. I was able to take this photo of the back of the stone.

But I was to discover the worst one in the next row; the one that would break my heart.

Stuart’s Scabs, Wounds and Scars

Upon returning home from my first visit I reviewed the photos I downloaded from my camera.

One of them contained a shot of an unusual, hybrid headstone. Apparently the original limestone monument had been placed with a  marble one. It was set on what looked to be the limestone base of the original stone. The cap of the original stone placed on the ground to the right of the new monument. In my genealogical wonderings through many cemeteries I had not seen anything like this. 

 I returned the next day determined to walk the cemetery until I found the graves on my request list.

 In the older rows of the north section, I found many a “bone of gravestones past;” the bases of an upright limestone headstones that had broken off.

I found two headstones that had broken off their bases and were stacked against the side of a monument. There were so many bases of broken stones it would take research to find out where these stones originally stood.

 Further back I found another stone lying flat on the ground. It was broken into three pieces that had been arranged in the original order.

Near the back of the north section I found a family monument that had been vandalized. One of the sections on the back was gone. I wasn’t sure if this had happened overnight or prior to my first visit. I made a note to call the caretaker to ensure he knew about the theft.

 It became clear this quite little cemetery had few visitors except the caretaker. I had taken a number of pictures of headstones from my list and it was nearly time to leave.  I took down the contact information for the caretaker as well as the FourMileTownship recorder, walked back to my truck and headed home.

 I called the caretaker about the monument with the missing section. I also had questions about one of the family plots. He thanked me for my concern about the monument and told me it had been missing when he started as caretaker about four years ago. Regarding my question about the family plot, he said he couldn’t help me because there was no plat book for the cemetery. It had been lost some time in the past. His main duty is to cut the grass, but he also performs openings and closings for interments. Stuart is still an active cemetery.

 As I hung up the phone, I wondered what I would find as I spent time in the south section. How would the graves with no markers be identified? Could I ever identify which bases belonged to the two stones leaning against the monument? I was beginning to feel sorry for this little forgotten cemetery. I also thought about those searching for their ancestors buried there. Where any of the people on my photo request list buried under the broken bases I saw? Even though I had several appointments the next day I know I had to get back to Stuart.