It's easy to miss one of Marietta's most historic graveyards while driving in the 800 block of Fourth Street. Located on a small plateau about 20 feet above street level, the Old St. Mary's Cemetery is barely visible from the roadway.
Caretaker Jim Boersma said the cemetery dates back to the early 19th Century.
"The oldest date we've found in the records was 1813-most likely referring to a burial, although there probably weren't many Catholics here at that time," he said. "And the first Catholics in this area would most likely have held mass in local homes."
According to a history of St. Mary Catholic Church, which maintains the cemetery, it was 1838 before the local Catholic population was large enough for a resident priest to be appointed in Washington County, and the first services in a church building were held in 1853 in the first St. Mary Catholic Church near the corner of Fourth and Greene streets in Marietta.
As the population grew, more burials were recorded in the cemetery records, including those of local soldiers.
"We've placed flags on the graves of all the veterans buried here that we know of," Boersma said. "There are about 49, mostly from the Civil War, although there are also others from World War I and World War II."
At a glance
The Old St. Mary's Cemetery is located in the 800 block of Fourth Street in Marietta.
The cemetery, maintained by St. Mary Catholic Church, was established in the early 19th Century.
1,038 burials have been recorded in the cemetery, but there could be another 900 unmarked graves, according to some estimates.
Source: Old St. Mary's Cemetery records
He said there could be even more soldiers laid to rest in unmarked graves within the cemetery grounds.
"We have records of 1,038 burials here but because some earlier graves were not recorded or marked, we've estimated there could be as many as 1,900," Boersma said.
The cemetery contains a wide variety of grave markers and memorials erected by families over the years, from simple engraved sandstone markers to larger, more elaborate granite monuments.
By far the largest monument in the cemetery is dedicated to Rev. John B. Kuehn, who pastored St. Mary Catholic Church from 1879 to 1892.
A set of four steps leads to the raised, grassy platform on which the cross-topped monument stands at the back of the graveyard property.
The inscription reads "Rev. John B. Kuehn, Born at Cologne, Prussia, April 2, 1839. Died at Marietta, Ohio, July 29, 1892."
Underneath is written "My children pray for the soul of your father."
Current St. Mary Catholic pastor Michael Campbell said Kuehn's period of service was one of the longest in the parish, according to church historical records.
"He died in July 1892 after three weeks of a serious illness," Campbell said. "The record says he wanted to be buried among his flock because he loved this area."
A spire and bell chimes, as well as interior renovations were made to the original St. Mary's Catholic Church during Kuehn's 13 years of service to the parish, Campbell said.
According to the Catholic Record Society of the Diocese of Columbus, Kuehn not only served Marietta, but also congregations in Cutler, Newport, Tunnel Station and Vincent.
Seventeen years after Kuehn's death, a new St. Mary Catholic Church was constructed on the institution's present site at the corner of Fourth and Wooster streets.
Although the church continues to maintain the Old St. Mary's Cemetery, a "new" St. Mary's Cemetery was opened in the early 1920s at the end of St. Marys Avenue in Marietta, where most of the burials take place today.
"The last burial in the old cemetery was in 2009 but there could be a few more," Boersma said, noting that some families have made arrangements to be buried with their relatives in the Old St. Mary's Cemetery.