From the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Sunday, October 26, 2003


Sunday, October 26, 2003
By Carolyn Tilley

Did you know that the President of the United States held in trust a small cemetery in Fairfield County? At least, several of our presidents did. Located just west of Lancaster, south of US 22 lies a most unusual walled cemetery. It is a dodecagon (12-sided figure), constructed of hand-dressed native sandstone. The stones are placed without mortar and the corners are shaped from mitered stone.

The Stonewall Cemetery, on the road of the same name, is the burying place of the Wilson family, early pioneers of Fairfield County. Nathaniel Wilson II, a Scotsman, brought his family to this area, probably over the nearby Zane's Trace. He settled in Hocking Township in 1798.

The background of this pioneer shows that his father, the first Nathaniel Wilson, was born in 1660. He and a Richard Cameron were taken prisoner by Charles I of England at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1679. Cameron's hands were cut off, but Nathaniel, then 19, managed to escape with Cameron's now useless sword. He made his way home and eventually reached Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. He reared his family there and died in 1753, at age 93, leaving the Cameron sword and old Scotch Bible to his eldest son, Nathaniel II.

This Nathaniel Wilson II immigrated to the Ohio wilderness and built a humble log cabin in a clearing, and hung the old Cameron sword over its doorway in the living room. Beneath the sword were inscribed the words: "The sword of the Lord and Gideon." Mr. Wilson embraced the ideas and peculiarities of the Old Scoth Covenanters, among which was a great reverance and respect for the dead.

Others on this frontier did not seem to share his same ideals; therefore, he envisioned something special for his family.

Wilson II died on March 21, 1814, and was buried in the old city graveyard at High and Chestnut in Lancaster. His son, Nathaniel Wilson III, inherited his father's reverence for the dead. He finished the paperwork, and before deeding it to the president, had neighboring settlers Samuel and Emanuel Carpenter lay out a plan for enclosing it with a stone wall in 1816. There were nine marked graves in the little cemetery. The remains of Nathaniel Wilson II and his wife Elizabeth were moved to Stonewall Cemetery and placed in unmarked graves when the old city cemetery was moved in 1907.

Wilson III deeded the cemetery to President James Monroe on Oct. 24, 1817, to be held by "his successors in office forever, in fee simple forever in trust for the said Nathaniel Wilson and his heirs." The deed was legal and was witnessed by two Lancaster men. Thomas Ewing, who later served as Secretary of the Interior and Treasury, and William I. Thomas. No evidence has been found that President Monroe accepted the deed. Although started as early as 1812, it was not officially granted until 1940, under the signature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

On July 5, 1961, James M. Hengst, Nathaniel Wilson II's great-great grandson, purchased 1.046 acres surrounding and including the cemetery. In 1966, the cemetery was transferred to the Fairfield Heritage Association. In 1978 Heritage had it restored with a public preview on Oct. 8. However, vandals hit several times in the 1980s and destroyed many of the stones. It was cared for by the Hocking Township Trustees for a time and is now preserved as a Fairfield County Historical Park.

The wall wasn't started until 1838. The sandstone probably came from a quarry on nearby Allen's Knob in Shallenberger State Nature Preserve. The stones, about 18 inches thick, were shaped at the quarry to fit each into the other. At the corners, the stones were shaped with angles, thus avoiding mortar. Each of the 12 sides is 29.5 feet in length. The wall stands today without a crack and with no settling. It is considered to be the finest example of dry masonry in the state of Ohio.

At the quarry and the cemetery, Nathaniel III read to the workman from his Bible. According to I Kings 6:7, Solomon's temple was "built of stone made ready before it was brought thither so that there was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building." Stonewall Cemetery was built in the same manner.

Pockets in the tops of the wall indicate that an iron fence was planned, but never constructed. The stone work of the wall included an arch over an iron gate forming the cemetery entrance. Over the north-facing gate a semicircle of smooth stone, different from that in the wall, is fitted into the arch, and bears the following inscription:

"This wall which encloses the family burying ground of Nathaniel Wilson (one of the early pioneers of the west who departed Cumberland County, Pennsylvania and settled near this place A.D. 1797 when all around was one continued and uninhabited wilderness) was commenced by him A.D. 1838 and finished the following year by his son Gustin, the former having suddenly died May 12, 1839."

In the center of this plot Nathaniel planted a Cedar of Lebanon tree which he obtained from Mt. Lebanon in the Middle East. The founder's plan for the graves is outlined in his will. His wife was to be north and his own south of the Cedar. Over each grave is a sandstone slab, and at either end is an upright stone, slightly higher at the head supporting the inscribed marble slab at a slight angle. The inscribed stones are all about 20 inches above ground level.

The little cemetery has seen much in its many years and the passage of time has not been kind. Lightning struck the Cedar, and it has been replaced by a new Cedar of Lebanon.

Nathaniel Wilson III's will, executed in 1838, set aside a tract of land of the perpetual growing of locust posts to keep the cemetery fenced. This tract of land, willed to President Martin Van Buren, was bounded on the north by the road leading from Lancaster to Amanda. With changes in the route of this road, once known as the Zanesville-Maysville Turnpike, it is difficult to locate this tract of land known as the "President's Acre." "The President's Cemetery" and "The President's Acre" are different plots of ground within Section 15 of Hocking Township. Nearby on US 22 is the original Wilson homestead. It has a beautiful tree-lined lane reminding one of a southern plantation. What stories our ancestors had to tell.

Join Fairfield County Parks at Stonewall Cemetery on Halloween night, Friday, for "Stories at Stonewall" to hear some of those stories.

For details, visit the Web site or call 681-7249.

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