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Grave matters: 2 family cemeteries; no relatives

Caretaking is ‘just human compassion’

March 23, 2012
By Evan Bevins - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

WILLIAMSTOWN - Two cemeteries in Williamstown bear the Kinnaird name, both of them cared for by Wood County residents with little or no connection to that family.

"They can't help themselves because they're dead. But I can help them," said Jeff Smith, 63, of Vienna, W.Va.

"It's not a relative, but it's just human compassion for your fellow man," he said.

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EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Vienna, W.Va., resident Jeff Smith explains his efforts to maintain the David Kinnaird Cemetery on Casto Lane off Waverly Road in Williamstown, including obtaining a new headstone for a soldier killed in the Civil War in 1864.

Smith, a retired Pitney Bowes service technician, became a caretaker for the David Kinnaird Cemetery on Casto Lane off Waverly Road in Williamstown and six other gravesites through his work with the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society's Rural Cemetery Association. Meanwhile, Williamstown resident David Burton began mowing the Rufus Kinnaird Cemetery, west of Casto Lane on Waverly Road and near Riverview Cemetery, in 2006.

Smith said most descendants of the Kinnaird family left the area long ago for Mason County, W.Va.

He was led to the David Kinnaird Cemetery by fellow Vienna resident Joe Fetty in the fall of 2009. Only three markers of the 13 originally there were still above ground, just one of them visible in the high weeds. The others were under the surface, unearthed by Smith and his girlfriend Kathryn Mack, who along with Rod Linch helped clear the brush from the cemetery.

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The Rufus Kinnaird Cemetery is located on Waverly Road, just east of the Riverview Cemetery in Williamstown. At least eight people are interred there.

The David Kinnaird Cemetery is located on Casto Lane off Waverly Road in Williamstown. Thirteen members of Kinnaird's family are interred there, including a grandson killed in the Civil War.

Last year, Smith designed and installed a sign at the cemetery, for which he was reimbursed by the Wood County Landmarks Commission.

One of the three tombstones he found on the surface belonged to Pvt. David K. Page, a grandson of Kinnaird who was killed in 1864 at New Creek, W.Va., during the Civil War.

"When I saw that Civil War marker laying there, it was so deteriorated, you couldn't make out (anything but) the 11th West Virginia Infantry ... and his company," he said.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Smith said he found this unacceptable and spent two months doing research to discover the name of the soldier buried there. He ordered a new marker from the Department of Veterans Affairs and installed it last year.

It isn't on the original site of Page's interment, which Smith believes was lost when Casto Lane was created.

"Sometimes you just do the best you can," he said. "But you don't want his memory lost."

One of the first stones Smith repaired in the cemetery marked the final resting place of Mollie C. Johnson Kinnaird, the wife of David Kinnaird's son, John, who died in 1863 as a result of complications from childbirth. She is interred next to two infant children, one of whom died just five days before her.

"Because of the woman trying to give life, cost her her life," Smith said. "I just felt kind of a connection to her."

He was also touched by a marker he found for Hattie Bartlett, who died on Aug. 25, 1876, at the age of 11 months, 26 days.

"That little child never got a chance and never made it to her first birthday," Smith said. "I told her, I said, 'Hattie, you're gonna have flowers.' And she's had flowers ever since I found her grave."

Smith likes to do research on the graves for which he cares, providing a more personal connection to the people buried there.

"Cemeteries aren't just a place to deposit dead bodies," he said. "That is a whole raft of history."

Burton's grandparents live near the Rufus Kinnaird Cemetery (named for David Kinnaird's nephew, who died in 1871), and he noticed a few years ago that the grass was getting particularly high.

"All the years I'd been going up and down the road, I never saw anybody doing it, but obviously somebody was," he said. "Whoever it was just stopped."

One man cut the grass when it was higher than his head. But in early 2006, Burton, 33, noticed it had gotten waist-high again.

"I just pulled the truck in one day with the Weedeaters and started," he said.

Burton has been mowing the grass at the small cemetery - where at least eight people are interred, according to - every week or two in warmer months since.

The only connection Burton has to the Kinnaird family is that three generations of his own family lived in a house that once served as a school bearing the Kinnaird name. Burton said he does the work simply out of respect.

"I really and truly hope that one day my gravesite isn't abandoned and ignored like that," he said.



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