SITKA - The church at Sitka hasn't seen a regular congregation in decades, but it still stands today thanks to the efforts of community members and its cemetery is still open for burials.
According to findagrave.com, a website dedicated to recording and presenting final disposition information for individuals around the world, the most recent person buried there died in 1997. Sitka resident Debbie Gessel, 41, lives next door to the church and said she's never seen anyone buried in the cemetery behind it or the newer portion across Ohio 26.
"We've been here eight years and that's not happened," she said.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Debbie Gessel looks over the grave markers in the Sitka Cemetery beside her home on Ohio 26.
But the option is still open, said Sitka native Helen Hall.
The charge for a burial there in 1903 was $5, according to a history of the church written by Donna Betts and provided by Marietta resident Kurt Ludwig. That's also the amount paid for more recent interments, with proceeds having gone to fixing up the church and maintaining the cemetery, Hall said.
"That's what it's always been," she said.
- Location: Ohio 26, about five miles north of Marietta, next to the old Sitka Church.
- First burial: 1853, according to Arthur McKitrick's cemetery reading.
- Last burial: 1997, according to data on findagrave.com.
- Maintained by: Lawrence Township trustees.
Hall continues to visit the cemetery at least once a year, usually on Memorial Day.
"We still put flowers on my grandma and grandpa's" graves, she said.
A reading of the markers in the cemetery recorded by Arthur McKitrick sometime between 1969 and 1971 listed 103 people buried in the cemetery. Findagrave.com lists people buried more recently, but only has a total of 80 names, perhaps because some of the stones are no longer legible.
"The weather ... has really corroded them," Gessel said.
Hall said perhaps one reason more people haven't been buried there recently is that the cemetery still follows the German tradition of burying people in the order that they died, rather than in family plots.
"So a lot of people don't want to do that," she said.
The church was officially established in 1853 as the Evangelical Protestant Christian Church of Lawrence Township, which met regularly in the German school in the area. This happened nearly 40 years before the community took the name of Sitka.
It is not clear when the church building itself, which still stands today, was constructed, but records suggest it was sometime in the 1870s, according to Betts' history.
One of the early leaders of the church was Charles Barth, the great-great-great-grandfather of Catherine Sams, a library assistant in at the Washington County Public Library's Local History and Genealogy branch in Marietta. Because of this connection, she has taken an interest in the cemetery and those buried there.
"I thought I might find more family members," she said.
In 2004, local resident Chris Painter photographed all of the markers in the Sitka cemetery, and these photos can be reviewed at the local history and genealogy branch. Sams said she began a project several years ago to compare the actual photos with the readings on record and attempt to locate obituaries for those interred. This could be of use to people trying to construct their family trees, she said.
The first person apparently buried in the cemetery was Magdalena Spindler Jung, who died in 1853 at the age of 22, less than nine months after getting married, Sams said.
A 1905 membership list for the church included 27 names. The last record of meetings was in 1910, but Betts' history said it is likely services continued, in German, until close to the start of World War II.
Hall said her grandfather's funeral was held there in 1938, a few years before she was born, but the church was not actively used then.
Carol Ward, 82, who was born in Sitka and now lives at the Glenwood Retirement Community, recalls growing up near the church. Although her family did not regularly attend there, she visited it from time to time in her youth.
"I remember playing there," she said.
Community members rallied about 25 years ago to repair the church's deteriorating roof and floor. Additional restoration work was done between 2002 and 2008.
Gessel said she and her husband mowed the grass in the portion of the cemetery behind the church before the township trustees took over maintenance of it.
The people buried there "deserve to have a clean decent area here," she said.