By Gordon McGregor
Formerly there was a small cemetery close to the North corner of the town of Ridgetown. By 1880 it was becoming crowed and two old men, Jas. W. Brown and Chas. Shaw purchased 12-1/2 acres from Deacon John Willson, and this later became Greenwood Cemetery.
Only 10 acres were intended for burial purposes. A map of this part was made by an artist, a relative of Chas. Shaw which probably explained the circling drives and lots that are splinters and all the known triangles with burials not only made from East to West, but North to South and to every point of the compass.
The 2-1/2 acres in front was intended to give the Cemetery seclusion, a wide drive was made across this part where teams could be tied on either side and gates were placed where the drive joined the Cemetery. When funerals were held, only the people were allowed inside the gates, the same rule applied to visitors.
A set of rules was printed and a copy given to each lot owner. They were very good rules and most of them are still in force. Permanent upkeep was promised. The price of lots was set at 10 cents per superficial square foot, 2 cents of which (per foot) was placed in the Bank to form a sinking fund. The interest was to take care of the up-keep. Anyone should have known that this could not work; yet, I believe at that time both owners were honest. Later Chas. Shaw was accused of all the crimes on the calendar including grave robbing.
The town was appointed Custodians of the Sinking Fund and work began. With time and patience, they were ready to offer lots for sale. On November 27 Doctor Jacob Smith passed away. The town closed up, the schools were given a holiday and all roads led to the cemetery - it seemed the Gods were favoring the new cemetery. The Doctor was liked and respected by all who knew him. He was the ideal family doctor and still a comparatively young man. Being the first burial, the family received a Gift Lot.
For a few years the Cemetery owners were literally smothered in wealth (almost). Each funeral meant a lot purchased and many lots were sold to persons who desired theirs in a certain place. The McKinleys were a populous Clan at that time and purchased 8-1/2 lots in a block. Leanus Watson bought 4, Chas. Eastlake bought 2. Trees were planted and while the Spruce outgrew their beauty, they were very nice while small. The pyramid Cedars are still beautiful. Unfortunately the prosperity was short lived and soon the planting ceased.
As we mentioned before, Shaw and Brown were both old men, but for a short time they kept the Cemetery very beautiful. Mr. Brown was the first to drop out. It might not have been more than 5 years that he was able to take an active part and then Mr. Shaw carried on alone. He had no family of his own, but had a nephew and a niece. The nephew was an actor, possibly a bad actor. It was reported all Chas. Shaw's money went to get him out of scrapes. Whether this was true or not, we do not know, but Mr. Shaw was in the financial difficulty. Then he stopped paying the Sinking Fund into the Bank. Later, things became worse and he sued the town to regain what he had already paid in.
The town won the suit but as Mr. Shaw had nothing, the Judge allowed the town to pay the court costs out of the sinking fund.
In looking backward, it is hard to believe so much could happen in so short a time. The Cemetery had sprung up, became a thing of beauty and then became neglected and deserted looking. James Brown died in 1901, Chas. Shaw in 1902. Only a few lots that the owners cared for were neat, and a neat lot between 2 neglected ones, with sunken graves and wild roses or briars, looked almost worse than if none were cared for.
A mortgage for $100.00 on the Cemetery part had not been paid. After Mr. Shaw's death, his niece (Mrs. Sutherland) carried on long enough to place a mortgage of $225.00 on the front 2-1/2 acres and then she moved to Michigan. John Willson died and his son Ben took his place.
Ben Willson did the only thing he could do - buy the small mortgage. He didn't want the Cemetery and tried to get the town to take it at a price covering the Mortgages. The Town voted "No" and so it was advertised for sale ($20,000 worth of Cemetery lots for sale - NO buyers.)
Shortly after 1900 the Government began to take an interest in Cemeteries and passed Legislation whereby Trustees might be elected in Cemeteries where desired.
James Serson thought this might be used to advantage in Greenwood. A meeting was called for that purpose. George McDonald, James Serson and Al Long were appointed Trustees. A meeting of Lot holders was called to which Mr. Ben Wilson was invited to discuss the matter. I might add that James Serson and Geo. McDonald were the last 2 men on the earth to do any business with Ben Wilson. They were both good Grits while Mr. Wilson was a good Tory. In addition, he had tried for member of Parliament a few years before and Serson and McDonald had worked hard against him. Also, when he tried to turn the Cemetery over to the town, Geo. McDonald canvassed to have the voters vote against it and it was said afterwards he celebrated the victory by getting drunk, so the outcome of this meeting could only be failure.
As many as could attended the meeting, all out for blood - anybody's. Mr. Serson opened the meeting by saying "this was a new venture and it might be necessary to go through a process of law to find where everybody stood". That was all Mr. Willson wanted to know. He arose and said "if it's law you want - I'll give it to you" and walked out.
Mr. Serson was always strong on law - one of the men who always kept the lawyers happy. The meeting continued and the lot holders were persuaded that all they had to do was put up sufficient money for a law suit and the Cemetery would be theirs.
Three hundred and fifty dollars was collected and the suit was on. In as much as the Town was Custodian of the Sinking Fund, they were made a party to the suit. Unfortunately the Judge didn't see it the same as Mr. Serson. He said "the Cemetery was Mr. Willson's and if the Trustees wanted it, they must buy it". He said, "however, the sinking fund belonged to the trustees" so, you can understand why there are Directors and Trustees.
The lawsuit was quite expensive. The lot holders paid their $350.00, the Town $400.00 and I believe Mr. Willson a like amount - a total nearly equal to what Mr. Willson asked the town for the Cemetery a few years earlier.
A Trustee serves until another is appointed in his place. Mr. Serson died and 3 new Trustees were appointed. They met in O.K. Watson's office to discuss ways and means. One suggested that in his opinion, they must own the Cemetery first. Mr. Watson advised that it would be better to form a Company, as Trustees were only supposed to hold something in Trust. Mr. Virgil Springsteen said he was a distant relative of Mr. Willson's and on the same side of politics and he would see what he could do. He reported at a later meeting, with an option for 6 months for $1600.00. Mr. Willson had built or moved a small house and barn onto the cemetery property so $1600.00 was not more than he had put into it.
When it was learned the Trustees had an Option, several offered to help. John W. Spence helped canvass. Geo. Leatherdale proved to be the best canvasser - his method was somewhat original - he didn't ask for money - he told everyone we have to pay and they did. Geo. H. Grant supplied the solution of how to raise the money, making it equal for all and not a hardship for any. Shares of $5.00 each should be sold. The Lot holder who owned 1/2 lot should buy one, those who owned a whole lot buy 2 shares.
In 3 weeks $1235.00 was pledged. That, with the Sinking Fund remaining and the amount from the Lots Mr. Willson had sold, paid for the Cemetery. The Company was formed and all they had to worry about was how they could care for the Lots and build up a sinking fund at the same time. By this time 400 lots had been sold and less than 150 were in the Company - the others were waiting to see if it would be a success before joining and it couldn't be a success until they did join.
After 12 hard years, an attempt was made to care for the whole Cemetery. There were good years and bad ones. Once a Secretary had to pay the caretaker's salary for the last month in his year from his own pocket. However, by the end of another year things were looking up again.
One of the first acts of the new Company was to raise the price of Lots. Four cents per foot was added, the excuse being, it would put those who bought Lots on the same footing as those who had bought Lots earlier and joined the Company later but not enough to make 1/2 lot owners.
In the early years no attempt was made to care for any lot not in the Company and sometimes they didn't get very good care. The lot owners who said unkind things of the former owners said unkind things of the Company. The only bright spot was each year the Sinking Fund was a little larger and the Directors felt they were a little nearer the time when all the Cemetery could be cared for.
As much as possible the pleasanter part of the history has been recorded. Mr. Serson's blunder was all out in the open at the time and no harm should result from its repeating. Besides it was very import and might have wrecked everything and made the history of Greenwood Cemetery much different.
There were other blunders that cost the Cemetery plenty, but they came when the Company was out of the woods and running strong and were only able to slow things up for a while. They are safely buried and we will forget them. Life is much sweeter if we think only of the pleasant things with which we come in contact.
During the 44 years since the Cemetery Company was formed, the world has seen many changes and one wonders if the Company has become outdated. The rules call for an Annual meeting. How many years since a meeting was held? All Deeds and checks should be signed by the Chairman and Secretary of the Board of Directors. The Board doesn't have a Chairman - he died.
The Board, and for that matter, the whole Company has narrowed down to one man - The Secretary". He is Scotch. Thank goodness they don't quit, but they can get very tired and discouraged. Financially the Cemetery is in good shape. The Sinking Fund is big and ever growing. The Cemetery is well cared for and, on surface, all is well.
This is not intended as fault finding or criticism and is only an attempt to point out that while the present system worked thirty or forty years ago, it is not working today. The Company is slowly dying from indifference and needs a strong shot in the arm or a decent burial. Is there a better method, something more suitable to meet today's needs?
On the first page of the Cemetery Register appears "C. Shaw Lots 1,2,3,4" and across the page is a receipt dated May 29, 1886 for $95.68 cts signed Thos. Schlinker, for Sinking Fund on Greenwood Cemetery. Lots sold according to Register. Apparently this was the beginning of the Sinking Fund and the payment was made directly to the Treasurer of the Town.
With the information at hand, it is impossible to be exact in either dates or figures, but as the Cemetery was opened in 1885 and Mr. Willson was in control in 1905. It was in the Shaw Family for about 20 years. During that time 320 Lots were sold. The Sinking Fund on an average sized Lot was just over $5.00 and should have totalled $1600.00.
The amount in the Bank at the time the Company too possession was $232.00.
[Transcribers note: This history was in an envelope marked "Gordon McGregor" that was loose in a binder "Ridgetown Rural Women's Institute, Local History, Records of Mrs. George Brien". It is believed that Gordon was Secretary for the cemetery and this was, in fact, written by him.]
Transcribed from the records of Mrs. Geo. S. Brien, Rural Ridgetown Women's Institute.