Pioneer Cemeteries – Reminders of The Past

Pioneer Cemeteries – Reminders of The Past

When presenting the history of the Franklin area, the final resting places of its earliest settlers are sometimes overlooked. Often people pass by these cemeteries and are unaware of their existence or that these grave markers tell a story about the immigrant families that chose to settle in Franklin.

What many people may not realize is that Franklin is believed to have the oldest marked grave site in Milwaukee County, with its earliest burial occurring in 1839. This cemetery sits quietly on a barren hill on the east side of So. 68th St. between Puetz Rd. and Ryan Rd. It is surrounded by a white picket fence and marked with a five foot high white painted concrete cross. There is a sign near the road that says “Carman Family Cemetery — Milwaukee County Landmark — 1982”.

It was Edmund Carman, his wife and their children who arrived in Franklin from England in 1837. Carman, a farmer, purchased 160 acres from the US government in 1839 , and it was in that same year that his daughter Eliza, age 18, died. She is the earliest marked grave in the cemetery. Edmund Carman died in 1865, having been preceded in death by his wife and two other children, and is the last known burial in the cemetery. Little is known about the other people buried there except for Elias Burr, who died in 1852 and had been a Franklin town supervisor in the 1840’s. It was probably his descendents who purchased the property in the 1930’s and ran the Burrwood Stock Farm. Later in 1946, ownership was transferred to Milwaukee County. In 1982 the cemetery was designated a Milwaukee County landmark and in 1988 it was restored by the Milwaukee County House of Correction (now the Milwaukee County Correctional Facility – South) and the Wisconsin Conservation Corps.

One of the tombstones in the Carman Cemetery has two small lambs on it and may represent the grave marker of two children of a Dutch family that lived nearby. The Dutch settled in Franklin in an area known as the “Dutch Flatlands”. It covered an area bounded by Ryan Rd., 60th St., County Line Rd., and 92nd St. The Hollanders, with names like Leenhouts, Kotvis, Kommers, Veenendaal, and VanHouten, brought their religious denomination with them. Upon their arrival they saw the need for a church and a cemetery. One farmer and church leader donated a piece of his farm land to establish the cemetery after two of his children had to be buried in the “lonely little cemetery” north of Ryan Rd. on 68th St. (Carman Family Cemetery).

By 1910 the number of Dutch had declined and the church was closed. That was the second church that had been built, since the first church burned down years before. That second church remains in existence today on S. 76th St. south of Ryan Rd. but now is used as a private residence. The cemetery is still in its original location, west of the Franklin Public Works building and Worzella Lumber on Ryan Road. Surrounded by tall trees on three sides and marked by a large carved stone near the road, the grave markers today remain as reminders of the Dutch immigrants that came to settle in Franklin years ago.

Another pioneer cemetery along Ryan Road is the cemetery west of the Painesville Chapel and near the corner of 27th St. In 1977 the meeting hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and its cemetery is part of that chapel’s history. The cemetery was started in 1851 on land purchased from the Jackey family, one of the former owners of the Buckhorn Tavern. When they both died in 1876 they were buried in the Painesville Cemetery. By 1852 the meeting hall was completed and the Lutherans who split on doctrinal matters from St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church on Oakwood Rd. in Oak Creek began worshipping there.

Many of the graves in the cemetery are those of local farm families who came to Franklin and Oak Creek in the mid 1800’s. One family that came from Switzerland, whose story was recalled in the Cabins to Condos book published by the Franklin Historical Society, has their final resting place at the Painesville Cemetery. Samuel and Maria Giesie and children Jacob and Elizabeth came to America and then in 1848 purchased farm land on 51st St. and Ryan Rd. Son Jacob, who was married and had a young son, died in his early 20’s. Daughter Elizabeth lost her fiance in the Civil War at the Battle of Chickamauga in Tennessee. She never married, instead living out her life helping on the family farm. The grave markers for this family show a variation in the spelling of the family name — varying from Giesie to Geezy. It was not usual for immigrants to see the spelling of their family names change often, depending on who was recording the names. The spelling of names from different ethnic groups was not an easy task, especially for people unfamiliar with a particular culture or for people with a limited education.

Just as the Painesville Cemetery was built on land near a church, so were three others cemeteries in Franklin built on land near their churches: St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in St. Martins. One cemetery is still close to its church, but others stand alone since the churches have moved to other locations in Franklin.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was built in 1856 off the corner of College Ave. and 51st St. and that is where land was designated as a cemetery. Later, in 1916, the congregation built a new brick church but moved farther south of 51st St. where more land was available. The cemetery remained on its original site. Today it is fenced in and dwarfed by large trees and apartment buildings, but the sign on the fence still identifies it as belonging to the St. Paul’s congregation. Many of the grave sites are those of families that were the early members of the church that came to Franklin in the mid to late 1800’s.

In 1869 some members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church left to form a new congregation that they named St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. They built their church on land purchased on So. 68th St. between Loomis Rd. and Rawson Avenue. That congregation also established a cemetery on the property and many farm families like the Boldts, Bertrams’ Bennings, Muellers, Tretows, and Delikats have grave sites there. One tombstone lists the names of 7 children from the Boldt family that had died. Through time, the stories varied as to what caused their deaths. During the 1800’s nutrition, sanitation, and medical care was not what it is today and so parents may have lost many of their children at a young age and may never have seen them reach adulthood. Eventually membership declined and St. Peter’s was closed. For a while the chapel continued to be used for an occasional funeral and burials in this cemetery near the Polish Center property are still occurring. In 1983 the church was moved to the Franklin Historical Park and now serves as a site for weddings and the annual non-denominational Christmas services each December. Heat is provided by a wood stove and oil lamps are lit for light as carols are sung. Preaching is done in English and German so that guests get a feel for what is was like for the early settlers of Franklin to worship in that church.

The only other church cemetery in Franklin, that of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, was the one that was established through cooperation of the former Holy Assumption Parish and the former Sacred Hearts Church (now merged as St. Martin of Tours) in the village of St. Martins. Because of the language barrier, the Irish worshipped at Holy Assumption — built in 1847 — and the Germans at Sacred Hearts– built in 1848. Originally Holy Assumption donated land for the building of Sacred Hearts and land for the cemetery. Because several members of Holy Assumption were already buried on the donated land, a compromise was reached. The Holy Assumption Cemetery (Irish)was established directly west of Sacred Hearts church and the Sacred Hearts Cemetery (German) was then to be located directly west of the Irish cemetery.

All of these early cemeteries represent groups of immigrants that settled in Franklin. In the beginning it was mostly the Irish and German that came to Franklin with smaller groups of Dutch, Swiss and English making their way from Europe to America to start a new life. Each had their own form of worship and established cemeteries affiliated with their churches. Prior to the building of those churches families like the Carman family buried their family members on their own land. As people drive past these places of rest, it is well to remember not necessarily the names of these early pioneers but the contributions they made to Franklin’s growth and development.

Judeen Scherrer