Plainfield home to many historic residents
By BETH ALTENA
Former Plainfield Township Trustee and current member of the Cemetery Committee, Chuck Weldon also has the experience of a lifetime of familiarity with Plainfield Cemetery, located at the corner of Packer Drive and Rogue River Road. The cemetery is one of two in the township, along with Oaklawn Cemetery at the intersection of Cannonsburg Road and Brewer Avenue.
Weldon said he began working at the cemetery when he was 13 years old as a groundskeeper and grave digger. He is now 80. Recently he allowed a videographer to accompany him on a tour of the historic people and those he knew personally so his knowledge could be preserved. Eventually the township will provide a link to the video from the township’s website so others interested in history will be able to view the tour.
The cemetery is a fitting one for historic study as well as a place of mysteries and grand stories. Originally it was a private family gravesite for the Livingston family, one of the first families in the township. Among inhabitants of the grounds is one of the signers of the Bill of Rights. Another gravestone tells the story of a man who gave his life for a friend.
Weldon, speaking before the videographer, said there are soldiers from the War of 1812 in the cemetery as well as a “lot of Civil War people” including Weldon’s great-great-grandfather, who was a Union soldier. Weldon said he still lives on six of the 40 acres (and a mule) returning soldiers were given in exchange for their military service. This reward of land and mule was not offered by other states, so many Civil War soldiers enlisted for Michigan from out of state in order to claim their 40 acres should they survive the war.
Many of those returning soldiers ended up settling in Belmont because the existing train line back then ended at the Belmont station.
Weldon pointed out the stone of Richard Buth, who was a Comstock Park High School teacher. “He had a business at the time, and became a township trustee,” Weldon shared. He said Buth ended up serving as state representative, the position now held by Pete MacGregor.
He described another family plot belonging to the Kleynebergs who used to own the building across from the current township hall. He pointed out a stone for a man named Koert, who was postmaster in Belmont. He used to get the mail off the train when it stopped in Belmont and distribute it to residents. Later, when the trainline was extended all the way up to Rockford (Laphamville), the mail was delivered to Belmont by a conductor who put the bag out on an arm next to the tracks, so the mail could be dropped off without stopping the train.
George Rollenhagen is buried in the cemetery, and Weldon said his business was home building. His own home still stands today, north of the Baptist church.
There are many Vissers in the cemetery, and Weldon recalled Roger, Ralph and Graham, the later ran a youth center where the Buddhist temple is today.
The names Heyboer and Livingston represent long lines to the past, William Livingston was born in Kingston, South Carolina on March 11, 1817 and married Margaret Miller, born in Andes, Delaware July 17, 1819. The couple were united in marriage in Plainfield, Michigan on May 13, 1838, the first couple to be married in the township. On the same stone which tells of the Livingston marriage is the name of Silas Livingston, 1781-1865, Grand-Pa.
Several of the stones in the cemetery give snippets of the lives of the people buried there, such as James Monroe, who was killed in the Battle of Fallen Waters, Maryland on July 14, 1863. Charles Monroe was killed by falling timber from the YMCA building in downtown Grand Rapids on July 1, 1892.
Joseph Babka has a description of his life on a tablet made of zinc, which Weldon said used to be more common but isn’t used much any more. Babka was born in Katow, Bohemia March 5, 1835. He emigrated to the United States in 1854 and enlisted in the United States Army at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania as a musician on October 20, 1854.
Babka served on the frontiers of Washington and Oregon territories for six years fighting Indians. He was discharged August 20, 1861 in Vancouver, Washington and reenlisted the same day to serve in the War of the Rebellion of 1861. In that enlistment he served under McClellan, Burnside and Mead in nine of the hardest battles fought and many others. He was discharged for disabilities at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 30, 1863. He died here on November 25, 1912.
Apparently people used to put on tombstones not only when someone was born and died, but the number of years, months and days they inhabited this earth, and there are many examples of this in the cemetery. John Andrews, for example, died August 31, 1853 at age 35 years, nine months and 20 days.
Many stones offer mysteries, some too old to read at all now, others interesting or incomplete. Elizabeth Haines was born in 1850, her stone says, but the date of her death is left blank. Perhaps some relative knows the story behind her incomplete stone and could contact the Squire with more information.
Another stone tells of the hardships of frontier life when the township was on the brink of civilization. Mary A., wife of Orren Pierce, died July 14, 1850 aged 18 years, and four months. Her stone adds underneath this date “also an infant babe.”
Not all the emigrates to Plainfield Township were from other states, like Babka, many came here from overseas to live in the wilds of Michigan. Thomas Clark was born in Sussex County, England on September 18, 1813. His wife, Elizabeth Pinkney, was born in Pennsylvania on April 18, 1837. They were united in marriage in Plainfield Township December 23, 1858. We can only wonder what their wedding ceremony was like in the dead of winter two days before the Christmas holiday that year. In what type of home did they live, what did they do, how did they celebrate the holiday as newlyweds? Those questions won’t be answered by a stroll through the township cemetery, but a visit offers many other rewards of contemplation.