Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cemetery on the Hill

View of cemetery from road
I was certain we were on the right road, having been told that the old Saratoga Cemetery, also known as Summit Hill Cemetery, was just south of the Kansas Forestry Fish & Game campus, but after the road curved off to the east we were confused.  We could not believe we had missed it, but we turned around for a last attempt to find the old cemetery.  At last, I saw something in a vast grassy field and asked my husband to stop so I could go check it out, but even then my husband wasn't convinced by the lone stone marker I had seen.  "I don't know what it is, but it doesn't look like a cemetery to me," he said. 
Marker of Edward R. Gillmore
In fact, what I had seen was the grave marker of Edward R. Gillmore, partially buried in dirt and grass that had filled in around its base over the years so that only part of the stone extended out of the ground.  Edward's parents, George and Elisabeth, originally from Kentucky and Tennessee, had lived in Missouri when Edward and his younger siblings, William and Rosa, were born.  They had paused in Miami County, Kansas for a time before arriving in Saratoga.  Young Edward lacked 14 days of reaching his 16th birthday.
It is no wonder that we missed seeing the cemetery as we drove by the first time.  In 1976 Russell Miracle recorded information from the grave stones and collected what information the sexton had.  (  At that time he accounted for 30 graves, but our visit did not reveal nearly that many, and those that remain show signs of wear and vandalism.  People my age who lived in the area confessed that the old cemetery had been a favorite parking spot for Pratt couples when they were teenages, and others admitted tipping over stones when they were kids.
Marker of Fletcher twins
Several of the existing stones now lie flat on the ground, while others are broken.  Even Edward's, which is in better condition than most, appears to have lost a finial from the top of his stone.  The marker for the Fletcher twin girls, who lived only seven days, is so badly broken that identification was possible only because of the records Mr. Miracle saved in 1976.  The unnamed twins were later joined by a tiny sister, Winnie, but no other family members are buried at Summit Hill.
The dates of death chiseled on the stones are from the 1880s and 1890s, during years the town of Saratoga vied with Iuka and Pratt Center for the county seat.  (See blog post "How Investors Created Pratt, posted Sept. 27, 2012, to read more about the battle for the Pratt County Seat and the gradual demise of Saratoga.)  Isaac Werner hauled grain to Saratoga to sell or to be ground, and he was impressed with the bustling town built around a square.  The 1887 Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture recorded two newspapers in Saratoga:  "The Saratoga Sun," a republican paper published by Albaugh & Hupp, and "The Pratt County Democrat," J.M. Gore and E.D. Fry, editors and publishers.  There were also two banks--Wilson, Weaver & Co. and the Bank of Saratoga headed by George A. Lewis & Co., both banks reporting paid up capital of $25,000.
Distant Pratt viewed from cemetery
At that time, Pratt Center was already the larger town, wih a combined population in town and the township of 1156 residents, but Saratoga had 419 town residents and 147 more in the township.  Iuka had only 68 town residents, although in the township there were 685 more residents.  When Pratt Center finally won the county seat, Saratoga held on for a while but eventually disappeared.  Today, standing atop Summit Hill Cemetery (Saratoga Cemetery) and looking across the broken grave stones of those former Saratoga residents, Pratt can be seen in the distance.
Broken stone of Della Thornton
Stone of M.O. Nichelson
Those buried on Summit Hill nearly all sleep in eternal peace alone, spouses and parents having moved on as the town of Saratoga disappeared.  Young Della C. Thornton, only twenty years old at her death, left her husband Frank to raise their son alone, and today none of her descendants remains in the community to repair the broken stone lying half-hidden in the blowing grass.
Old cemeteries leave behind many clues but also unsolved mysteries.  Miles O. Nichelson died September 28, 1887, only 21 years old.  The records from 1976 omit any mention of Miles but do include the death of Miles's mother, Parthenia, on Sept. 15, 1887.   Did both Mr. Miracle and I overlook the faint inscription of a second family member's death inscribed on the same stone?  And, what might have caused the deaths within days of each other?  It is reasonable to guess that an illness might be the explanation.  The whereabouts of John Nichelson, father and husband, and of Cora, Miles's thirteen year old sister at the time of his death, could not be traced.
Knowing the history of Saratoga, I understand why Summit Hill Cemetery has so few graves and why there are few signs of visitors.  When the town faded into history, some of its residents moved into Pratt, but others scattered across the growing nation.  The occupants of the graves did not live to see the death of their town, and today their neglected stones are the only evidence of a once thriving community.
(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.  If anyone knows more about the families mentioned in this post. or about the old Saratoga cemetery, please leave a comment.) 

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Old cemeteries tell so many stories with fuzzy beginnings and no endings, don't they? How did you know about Mr Miracle?
Tried finding it on Google Earth from your description but no luck. Do you have GPS coords?