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Bentleyville teen helps restore Union Cemetery

Published: Saturday,  June 12, 2010, 6:27 AM

By Angela Gartner, Sun News

Shaker Heights founder Ralph Russell is one of the few buried at Union Cemetery.

BENTLEYVILLE Resident Mitchell Black, 17, helped restore the historic Union Cemetery, where former resident Ralph Russell, one of the founders of Shaker Heights, is buried. Bentleyville held a ceremony and presentation of the site’s history Sunday to celebrate the restoration and cleaning efforts.

For the past year, Black led the way to restore the historic site for an Eagle Scout project. The Boy Scout needed a leadership project to achieve eagle rank. Black proposed a restoration plan of Union Cemetery in Bentleyville. In July 2009, with approval of council, he began making improvements to the site. 

According to a Park, Facilities and Beautification committee report, Black planned to clear the weeds, plant grass, fill in ditches and add stone as needed at the cemetery. In addition, he planned to install a stone bench and create a sign with historical information.

The Union Cemetery was created in 1859 by Russell and his family on one-third acre of land off Liberty Road. Russell and his significance is not commonly known. A farmer and veteran of the War of 1812, Russell was a pioneer who, after his father died in 1821, discovered the Shakers and went to Lebanon, Ohio, to learn more about the religion. When arriving home to what was Warrensville Township, he spoke to some of his relatives and neighbors about the Shakers and their way of life.

“His family members and neighbors then converted to Shakerism with Russell persuasions. They donated 1,393 acres of land and established a new Shaker community, North Union Village, which is now known as Shaker Heights,“ said Cathie Winans, former executive director of the Shaker Historical Society.

Russell and his family later left Union Village and settled on a farm on Liberty Road in what is now Bentleyville. “He was also at one time the trustee of Chagrin Falls and Solon Township,” Winans said.

Russell and other family members set up a family graveyard on the property. The Russells formed The Union Cemetery Association, which eventually welcomed neighbors to buy burial plots for family members.
“21 Russells are buried in the Union Cemetery, along with some neighbors,” Winans said.

Those buried in the cemetery are Ralph Russell, his wife Laura, their 6-year-old daughter and his son Ralph Elsworth Russell, who was the first one buried in the cemetery at age 32. Neighbors Orlin Kennedy and his wife along with the 1½ year old son of Henry Martin were also buried at the site. According to Shaker Historical Society records, the child’s death was from an accidental taking of fly poison, prepared in liquid form and left standing within reach.

However, not all the graves are marked, because there is no cemetery map available to know where people were buried, according to Winans.

Mitchell Black worked with the Cleveland Clinic to create this sign detailing the history and significance of Union Cemetery.

The markers at the site needed to be replaced. New grave markers from Sheffield Monuments were donated by the Shaker Historical Society, according to village park reports.

Black, who has been working on the cemetery project with the help of Cleveland Clinic, created a sign that has a map of the known graves and history of the site. Bentleyville and other organizations also donated resources to the project.  “The community’s generosity and others who gave resources, helped this project be a success,” Black said.

Black completed his work on the site and he said he learned about himself, communication skills, and the Russell family during the project.
“To finally finish feels really good, it is fulfilling to see your work come together,” Black said. “My favorite part of the whole project, was to get know the Russells and their perspective of Bentleyville, because what they saw is so different from what we see today.”


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