The Greenwood project: preserving our cultural heritage

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The Town of Leavenworth is a town of history, known for its historic places and historic people. Much of this history has been written, but little is known about those who found their final resting place in local cemeteries. As a result, an integral aspect of the city’s history has not been recorded and forgotten. A notable example of this neglected history can be rediscovered in a relatively unknown but historic cemetery within the city limits of Leavenworth.

Greenwood Cemetery on the west side of Leavenworth is the oldest existing cemetery in the town and one of the oldest in the state. Of the 20 reported burial sites within the city limits, only four still exist as a cemetery: Greenwood Cemetery (established 1863), Mount Olivet (Sisters of Charity) Cemetery (established 1866), of the Sully family (established 1882) and Leavenworth National Cemetery (established 1886).

As the oldest in Leavenworth, Greenwood Cemetery can be considered an open-air museum, representing one of the earliest local stories experienced by those buried here. Sadly, a unique slice of Leavenworth’s history is in danger of being lost forever.

Before the Civil War, in the early days of Territorial Kansas, Leavenworth’s only public cemetery was on Pilot Knob. Known as Mount Aurora Cemetery, it was located on the highest elevation just west of Leavenworth. Over time, it became overgrown and particularly difficult to access, leading residents to consider creating additional and more easily accessible burial sites.

The history of Greenwood Cemetery dates back to the earliest days of the State and Territory of Kansas. The land, part of which would become Greenwood, was originally ceded by the federal government to Adam Fisher, Lewellen Eckelberry, and Alexander A. Higinbotham on October 1, 1858.

Adam and his brother, George, were among the first families to settle in Leavenworth. Eventually, George became the owner of 160 acres of this property and became a well-known fruit and berry grower in the county. Adam was well known in the construction of the city.

In 1863, intending to set aside land for a new cemetery, Mary Davis, wife of Dr. James Davis, purchased 12 acres of rolling farmland in the northwest corner of Delaware Township from George Fisher. The Davis couple began advertising lots for sale in October as an alternative to funeral lots on Pilot Knob.

Greenwood Cemetery was officially established on December 4, 1863, with space for approximately 4,000 graves. Many of the early pioneer settlers including soldiers, farmers, lawyers, doctors, preachers, factory workers, coal miners, merchants and freed slaves found their final home in Greenwood. The cemetery, however, ended up being used less often as other larger cemeteries were established. Mount Muncie Cemetery was established in 1867 and Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in 1869.

Mrs Davis sold the Greenwood Cemetery land to George Fisher and Andrew Barnes in December 1866, Barnes becoming the resident sexton. Ownership of the cemetery then remained with these families as the city developed around it. The town of Leavenworth was transferred by deed in February 1982 and today the Town Parks and Recreation Department oversees the general upkeep of the old cemetery.

Next week: A resting place for the historic citizens of Leavenworth.


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