Monday, January 5, 2015

Finney & Sprong - Forgotten Pioneers, Forgotten Cemetery

The first Gehio post of 2015! I'll try to get some more non-cemetery traditional posts together for the new year so this doesn't turn into just a graveyard blog! Eh. Mebbe.

Finneytown OH was founded by Ebenezer Ward Finney and his son-in-law David Sprong in 1798. The area of land had been acquired by their families after the Revolutionary War from John Cleves Symmes.  Personally, I wish they called it Sprongtown! I do like the sound of that! "Finney & Sprong" also sounds like a fine bluegrass duo.

Pvts. Finney and Sprong are buried in what is now a hidden little cemetery that's had several names over the years. The Old Wesleyan or Old Finneytown Cemetery was also known as Winton Ridge Lane Cemetery and God's Half Acre Cemetery. Ironically, per Google Maps, the 1802 cemetery sits just outside the border of Finneytown in what is now College Hill.
The six foot tall by fifty-foot wide mound in the center is a c.800 BCE Adena Indian burial mound. Seen in the last two photo, next to the graveyard, is the top of the immense 1930s era  Winton Road Water ReservoirI believe it is unused now but I wasn't able to find additional information.  You can clearly see it in the overhead and street view maps in the link above. If anyone knows anything more about the reservoir I'd love to know! I'd hate to see it torn down. Maybe it can be a skate park!

For a great deal of time, no one knew who owned the old cemetery and as a consequence became overgrown and run down. This actually happens quite a bit. It is especially sad here not only because the founders of the community are buried here but also because 59 other early settlers and several veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 vets are interred here as well. Then, of course, there are the prehistoric Adena Indians buried in the mound. So much history in this half acre!

Finney and Sprong with their consorts
In 1935, President Roosevelt started the Work Project Administration or WPA to create jobs during the Great Depression. By then many old cemeteries, especially veteran cemeteries, were in sorry shape due to neglect. One WPA project was to record all the graves nationwide of those who served in all the US wars up until then. This cemetery and its occupants were recorded at that time along with the "old Indian Mound". I have a feeling that this place would have been lost forever without the WPAs involvement.

Since it still had no official caretaker or owner, the burial ground was pretty much forgotten about again for 50 more years.
In 1982, the Adena mound was rediscovered and partially excavated, but then was once again forgotten. We never seem to learn, do we?

Over the years, such as in 1995 and 2004 Boy Scouts and other civic groups have cleaned up the cemetery grounds. They have replaced or fixed some of the stones and even rededicated it.

the grounds with the Indian mound
and the reservoir to the right
Unfortunately, in early 2009 the grounds became associated with a heinous crime. The burned body of murdered teenager Esme Kenney was found near here.

The current state of the grounds seems to depend on when you visit as it relies on volunteer help. I had been here on two occasions in the last several years. On one visit it was nearly impossible to see the mound because the weeds were so high. By the second visit, I could clearly see the mound and the gravestones.
I don't believe in curses and am not typically creeped out by graveyards. However, seeing this mostly rundown cemetery with its nearly forgotten pioneers and ancient people, resting in the shadow of the hulking unused reservoir and then knowing about the horrible crime here certainly gave me pause and a major case of the willies.

Special thanks to the Prell Geneology Website for all the research of this property!

- FindAGrave
History of Finneytown 
2012 Cincinnati Enquirer article 
Genealogical information and article on the cemetery re-dedication. (Includes maps,photos and archaeological information by a descendant of Finney and Sprong.)