LIBERTY TWP. - The Paw Paw United Methodist Church closed 12 years ago, but the cemetery remains active under the care of a longtime church member.
Joyce Rea and her husband, Mark, mow the one-and-a-half-acre cemetery, located up a gravel road on a hill overlooking Germantown Road, about every two weeks in the summer. The Reas took over from another church member in 1997, three years before the United Methodist Church officials decided to close the more-than-150-year-old church.
"We only run on donations, and that's it," said Joyce Rea, 65. "(We've) always been here at this church. This is where I was raised."
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Bonn resident Arlene Sue Biehl puts a fallen floral arrangement back on the monument for her parents Thursday in the Paw Paw Cemetery in Liberty Township.
People can still be buried at the cemetery, with the most recent being laid to rest in July. Rea's parents, both sets of grandparents and multiple aunts, uncles and cousins are buried in the cemetery, named for the church and nearby Paw Paw Creek.
There are also many family connections in the cemetery for Arlene Sue Biehl, 68, of Bonn. Her parents, both sets of grandparents, two sets of great-grandparents, an uncle and an infant sister are interred there. She remembers coming to the cemetery as a child with her grandmother and siblings on Memorial Day.
"It was excitement for us kids because we would be able to put flags on their (family members') graves," Biehl said.
Location: Liberty Township, off Germantown Road south of Germantown and west of Dalzell.
Number of burials: More than 300.
Most recent interment: July 2012.
Source: Times research.
Biehl is now working on a project to photograph all of the markers in the cemetery and record the information on them. She plans to collect it all in a book that would be available from a print-on-demand website, an idea she got from her niece, who completed a similar project on a Noble County cemetery.
"It's something that when I get older, I might not be able to get out here, I can look back on," Biehl said of the book.
Biehl has identified 302 people buried in the Paw Paw Cemetery, but knows there are more whose monuments are illegible or whose graves were never marked at all. She relies on death records and other information to help identify some of those individuals.
Rea noted that while the United Methodist Church could have sold the church building, they gave it back to the cemetery because several infants had been buried nearby in unmarked graves. She and Biehl weren't sure why this was done, but speculated the families may not have been able to afford markers.
According to former Marietta resident Millie Covey Frye's book, "German-American Communities, Churches, Cemeteries and Records in Washington County and Adjoining Townships in Noble and Monroe Counties, Ohio," the church's origins date to 1839 or 1840. A hewed-log structure was built just above Germantown, but the site was changed to the current one in 1848, when Abraham Alban donated land for a new building.
The next year, Mrs. Thomas Robinson became the first person to be buried in the cemetery, which is one of the three oldest in Liberty Township, according to Frye's book. A number of the first settlers of the area and their descendants are interred there, including Dr. J.M. Warren, one of the first physicians in the township.
The current church building was constructed in 1888 at a cost of $1,200, according to Covey's book. It is still used occasionally, with a candlelight wedding scheduled for the end of September, Rea said.