MUSKINGUM TWP.-In the fall of 1831 a group of German settlers, originally bound for Missouri, found themselves stranded in Washington County.
"It was October and the Ohio River, the main transportation route, had nearly dried up-how were they going to get 52 people to Missouri?" said Donna Betts, of Stanleyville, who has researched local German-American communities and their churches.
She said the group was part of a large migration to America from the Bavarian Palatinate area of Germany in the early 1830s.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
The Highland Ridge Cemetery, final resting place of members of a German community established in that area in 1831, surrounds the 175-year-old Highland Ridge Community Church.
Some apparently found the hills surrounding the Mid-Ohio Valley reminiscent of their homeland and developed several communities in this area.
The 52 settlers who arrived in 1831 formed the Highland Ridge community in what was then Union and Fearing Townships, but has since become part of Muskingum Township.
"It was the first organized settlement in rural Washington County," Betts said.
At a glance
Highland Ridge Cemetery is located at 2200 Highland Ridge Road, off Ohio 821 in Muskingum Township.
The German cemetery surrounds Highland Ridge Community Church, originally founded Oct. 10, 1835, as The First Evangelical Protestant Christian Church of Union Township of Washington County.
The church celebrated its 175th anniversary in October 2010.
Source: Highland Ridge Community Church
Within a couple of years the community had built a log church and dubbed it The First Evangelical Protestant Christian Church of Union Township of Washington County. It was the first rural German church outside of the Marietta city limits.
"Theodore Schreiner was chosen as the church's first pastor," Betts said. "He first came as a circuit-riding preacher."
In 1849 the log church gave way to a frame structure that is now the non-denominational Highland Ridge Community Church, located along Highland Ridge Road, a few miles northeast of the Ohio 821 intersection.
Following the German tradition, the 20 or so families who founded the church at Highland Ridge also established a cemetery on the grounds that still surrounds the church building today.
Local historian Kurt Ludwig noted people were buried consecutively in that section of the Highland Ridge Cemetery surrounding the church.
A new section, located across the road from the church and operated by Muskingum Township, is now the final resting place for those who want to be buried in the Highland Ridge Cemetery.
"The people in the older cemetery were buried in the order they died, not according to family plots," Ludwig explained.
Betts said the burial procedure was a carryover from Germany.
"I found the same practice was still in place when I visited Germany in 2001," she said.
Betts noted one incident related to the consecutive burial practice nearly split another German church in Washington County.
"A woman had committed suicide and was buried but no one in the church wanted to be buried beside her," Betts said. "It was creating a rift in the congregation."
She said the issue was finally settled when the dead woman's sister asked church elders for a special dispensation allowing her to be interred in the adjacent gravesite.
The graveyard surrounding the Highland Ridge Community Church holds the remains of many infants and younger children.
"In the mid-1800s many families lost children to epidemics that included diphtheria, malaria and cholera," Betts said. "Some children in the same families died within days or weeks of each other."
On Oct. 10, 2010, the Highland Ridge Community Church celebrated its 175th anniversary and a brief history of the church was published in honor of the occasion.
According to that document, the English language wasn't introduced into services at the church until
1913 and a new constitution was adopted in 1916 when the name was changed to The First Evangelical Church of Muskingum Township.
In 1957 the church merged with Congregational-Christian Churches and became The United Church of Christ. Six years later the name changed again to The United Church of Christ of Muskingum Township and in 1971 it became known as The Highland Ridge Community Church.