VIENNA, W.Va.-Cemeteries are special places for Jeff Smith.
"I think the condition of a cemetery tells something about a community, and we should be respectful of them," he said. "The people buried there were like us. They lived their lives here, had jobs and families, and contributed to the community's growth."
So it's not surprising that Smith, 63, has spent the last couple of years on restoration of two graveyards that are the final resting places of members of the Hiett family, located just inside the city limits of Vienna, W.Va.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Jeff Smith, Williams District coordinator for the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society’s Rural Cemetery Alliance committee, stands by the grave of Charles Fulton, who drowned in 1869 at age 19. The grave is among 13 Smith has restored in the Hiett Cemetery in Vienna.
Williams District coordinator for the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society's Rural Cemetery Alliance committee, Smith finished restoration of all 13 graves in the oldest of the two cemeteries in September of this year.
"When I first saw it, the area was so overgrown with trees and vines you could hardly tell it was a cemetery," he said.
After clearing the site of overgrowth, he began the painstaking task of locating and repairing the headstones and foot stones of each grave.
About the cemeteries
The Hiett cemeteries are located just east of 59th Street in Vienna, W.Va., along the south side of Grand Central Avenue.
To see a map of identified cemetery sites on the Wood County Assessor's web site, go to http://gis.kimballdata.com/WoodCounty/code/map.aspx
Volunteers are always welcome to assist with the restoration efforts of the Rural Cemetery Alliance, a committee of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. Contact society president Bob Enoch at (304) 485-8655.
"You have to be careful and make sure not to move anything out of its original place," Smith said. "And I always research a cemetery before working on it."
He said markers in the older section indicated burials from 1823 to 1909, while the latest burial in the newer cemetery was 1959.
Smith is still working on restoration of the latter cemetery, but discovered those buried in the older graveyard include James and his wife Lucretia (Pugh) Hiett; their son, Obadiah Hiett with his first wife, Clarissa M. and his second wife, Elizabeth Rebecca (Coble) Hiett; James and Lucretia's daughter Ruth (Hiett) Temple; and Obadiah and Clarissa M. Hiett's son, Wallace N. Hiett.
Also buried at that site is Peter M. Simmons and his daughter, Jettie Mae Simmons, Minnie B. Mick, Calvin Willis Cunningham and Charles H. Fulton.
During his research, Smith found an interesting account of the death of 19-year-old Charles H. Fulton reported in the Marietta Daily Times in 1869.
Fulton and his cousin Harlan P. Hiett, a son of Obadiah Hiett, drowned on April 17 of that year while crossing the Ohio River in a coal-loaded skiff near the head of Buckley Island north of Marietta.
The river was reportedly running high, and the boat began taking on water. The two panicked and jumped into the swift current, but were apparently weighted down by their clothing and could not make the 30- to 40-yard swim to shore.
Smith said Charles Fulton's father, Capt. J.J. Fulton, watched the drownings helplessly from the shore as there was no other boat available to rescue the young men.
The pilot of the riverboat Mount Claire spotted and recovered Charles Fulton's body from the Ohio River two weeks later. Smith could find no record of Harlan Hiett's body being found.
At the older Hiett graveyard Thursday, Smith pointed to Charles Fulton's gravestone, the upper portion of which was engraved with the image of an anchor.
"The anchor caught my eye when I first saw the stone," Smith said. "I thought at first this was the grave of a boat captain. But then I looked up the use of an anchor on gravestones and found it's often symbolic of hope or eternal life."
Smith said there are apparently no remaining members of the Hiett family still residing in the local area, so the reason for establishing two family cemeteries within 75 feet of each other will likely remain a mystery.
He's continuing to work on restoration of the newer Hiett cemetery as time and weather permits.
Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society, said the Rural Cemetery Alliance committee has been working for at least three years on identifying cemeteries in the county.
"We started about three years ago and have located around 300 of them," he said. "We've posted all of those on the county assessor's website, and have rated each cemetery according to condition. But it's an ongoing effort."
Enoch said about 100 of those graveyards have been classified in poor condition and in danger of being completely lost.
"And of that 100, around 60 contain less than 10 gravestones," he said, but added that every cemetery is important.
"The people buried in these graves came into this county, lived here, and contributed to what we have today," Enoch said.
The goal of the cemetery alliance is to preserve and restore as many of the sites as possible.