State - Lansing Group hopes to make cemetery a learning place Historical society wants to create 'outdoor museum'

Kurt Hauglie

The Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton)

LAURIUM, Mich. (AP) -- The Hecla Cemetery in Osceola Township near Laurium hasn't been used since 1935, but members of the Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society are working to make it into a sort of outdoor museum of copper mining-era history.

Avis West, president of the HKCGS, owners of the 3.8-acre cemetery, said over the decades, it's had many owners. It was created by the Calumet Mining Co., which later became the Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. Other owners included two land trust companies, the most recent of which sold it to the society.

"It came up for sale," she said. "It took us years to work (the purchase) out."

The title transferred June 30, however, West said. Since the society has no liability insurance, an arrangement was made to donate the property to Calumet Township, which does. Using a conservation easement, the society will be responsible for maintenance of the cemetery and further inventorying of the site.

The earliest grave marker found in the cemetery is dated 1858, West said. Society members have found documentation for more than 800 burials, but it may never be known exactly how many there were. The most recent of the 111 grave markers found so far is dated 1935, but there are many more to document.

"We're not done," she said. "Most of the burials stopped in 1903."

West said from 1901 to 1930, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Calumet leased the cemetery for $1 per year, but its name even then was the Hecla Cemetery.

"A lot of people used to call it the Sacred Heart cemetery," she said.

Members of the society have been documenting the Hecla Cemetery grave markers for about five years, and West said they have documented burials in many cemeteries in Houghton and Keweenaw counties as a way to provide information to people seeking information about their ancestors.

There is some urgency for the work of the society in Hecla Cemetery, West said, because vandals have been damaging or stealing markers, and motorized vehicles have been riding through the cemetery.

West said the society recently received a $3,000 grant to help them document markers and clear vegetation in Hecla Cemetery. They intend to put up a fence of plantings around the site, both to indicate its boundaries, and to keep out the motorized vehicles. Members also want to make it easier for people to navigate the site, but it will never be mowed.

"We're trying to make a path through there," she said. "It's going to be a country cemetery."

Published: Thu, Aug 12, 2010