WATERTOWN TOWNSHIP - High on a windswept hillside along Waterford Road, about eight miles north of Marietta, stands Ava Maria Cemetery, adjacent to the former site of the Ave Maria Parish Church, built near the graveyard in 1866.
"The church stood on that site until the 1980s when it was finally torn down but some of the foundation stones are still there," said Bob Schwendeman, who lives near the cemetery on Waterford Road.
He said his great-great grandfather, Andreas Schwendeman, sold four acres to the parish for the church and cemetery and a priest's house in the 1860s.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Cemetery caretaker Ron Lang, left, and Bob Schwendeman look over some grave sites Wednesday afternoon at the Ava Maria Cemetery in Watertown Township.
Schwendeman said some records say the land was donated but he believes Andreas actually sold the property for about $100.
"Andreas lived down the hill in a log cabin, just west of the cemetery," Schwendeman said.
Also referred to as "Andrew" in some parish records, Andreas Schwendeman was born in Germany in 1819 and died in 1890, according to his gravestone in Ava Maria Cemetery. The marker is engraved in his native language.
At a glance
Ava Maria Cemetery is located northwest of Marietta off Waterford Road. Follow Gilman Avenue north out of Marietta to Waterford Road, then travel approximately eight miles on Waterford Road. Watch for the Maria Road sign on the right, just past the Bosner Ridge Road intersection. Follow Maria Road to the cemetery at the top of the hill.
"He migrated from Germany into Pennsylvania and to Pittsburgh, where he helped construct a portion of U.S. 40, which was originally built of split logs and known as a 'corduroy road' because the road surface resembled corduroy material," Schwendeman said.
A description of the Ave Maria Church and cemetery location is included in an article in the October 2010 Barquilla de la Santa Maria Bulletin of the Catholic Record Society, Diocese of Columbus:
"The ground is situated on a hill top, overlooking what then was the Waterford and Marietta wagon road," it reads. "It was three miles northwest of Churchtown. Because of its location near the banks of Rainbow Creek, it was generally known as the Rainbow Church."
The article indicates bricks for the church came from a brickyard that was developed at the church construction site.
Cornerstones for the church building were laid on July 1, 1866.
Many members of the Schwendeman family, who lived in the Watertown Township area, are buried in the cemetery. In fact, the latest burial there was Bob's cousin, Dean Schwendeman, who died in 2009.
The cemetery is now maintained by Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church near Lowell.
Jerry Huck, who currently oversees the cemetery for the church, said most of those buried at Ava Maria were interred in rough hewn wooden caskets and the graves were dug by hand.
His great-great-grandfather, Theodor Huck, was buried in the cemetery in 1917.
"He also lived in a log cabin and farmed near here," Huck said. "The story I've always heard was that he had a bunion on his foot and decided to cut it out himself. But the foot became infected and he developed gangrene and died."
Like his father and grandfather, Ron Lang does most of the mowing and upkeep of the cemetery for the parish.
"I guess I've been doing this work since I was about 10 years old-old enough to reach the mower handle," he said.
Lang noted Maria Road, a dirt-based avenue that leads to the cemetery off Waterford Road (County Road 4), is maintained by the township and is passable by most vehicles during dry weather.
"But my dad used to tell me that years ago in winter time they would use a team of horses and a sled to bring bodies up to the graveyard for burial," he said.