Lost history: Fairview Cemetery reflects buried history

Friday, January 31, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:31 p.m. CST, Friday, January 31, 2014
Five new properties have been added to the list of Columbia's Notable Historic Properties for this year, including the Fairview Cemetery.

COLUMBIA — Robert Eugene Grant serenely thumbed through pages of the burial plot book of Fairview Cemetery in his home as he recalled the deaths of distant relatives.

His grandfather died when he was young, while swimming inthe Missouri River, according to Grant.

If you go

What: 2014 Notable Properties Presentation by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Presentation will be held in the lobby of the Daniel Boone City Building at 701 E. Broadway.

Other info: An RSVP is required to attend the presentation

This year's notable properties:

Since 1998, the Historic Preservation Commission has recognized properties that join together in telling the story of Columbia's history. All properties had to be at least 50 years old with some historic relevance in Columbia to be recognized.  A presentation Tuesday evening will recognize each property.

Fairview United Methodist Church at 1320 S. Fairview Road

Built in 1942, the original frame of this property was burned in 1940, displacing students who went to school there, according to the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission. The building still operates as the Countryside Nursery School, which has had more than 3,000 students since 1979, according to the commission.

Lee School at 1208 Locust St. built in 1934.

The Lee School was built during the Great Depression as a local New Deal project meant to increase employment and improve depression-era conditions.

Francis Pike House at 1502 Anthony St.

Francis Pike was a notable Columbia historian and pressman who died in 2010. His tudor-style home, built in 1939, showcases impressive Ozark and giraffe rock in a "rare local example of native stone construction," according to the commission.

Clara Pike, 95, lives in the home she shared with Francis Pike since the late 1980s, her son, Ray Wiedmeyer said.

Bessie and Dr. J.E. Thornton House at 905 S. Providence Road

The tudor-style house built in 1925 was once the home of J.E. Thornton, a Columbia physician, and his wife, Bessie Thornton, according to the commission.

Unfortunately, neither one lived in the property for long. J.E. Thornton died the same year the couple moved into the home. Bessie Thornton moved soon after that, but kept the home as a rental property, according to the commission.

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"He got cramps and drowned," Grant said. "I always heard stories about how much he liked to swim, and that's the way he went."

Fairview Cemetery remains active and primarily used as a neighborhood cemetery. This year it's being recognized as one of five notable or historic properties by the Historic Preservation Commission.

The properties will be recognized with a reception and program that are set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Daniel Boone City Building. This year's list includes Fairview United Methodist Church, Lee School, the Francis Pike house, and the Bessie and Dr. J.E. Thornton house.

Grant, 81, has maintained the Fairview Cemetery for more than 50 years and takes the lead on marking and locating grave sites, and keeping record of those buried there.

The work is a family affair. Grant's nephew, Gary Wayne Grant, does much of the mowing, and his niece, Patsy Watt, is president of the Fairview Cemetery Association.

He said he hopes his family will continue to care for the cemetery.

"It's a family deal. They all kind of take care," Robert Grant said.

The recognition of Fairview Cemetery as a historic property this year has deeper meaning for Grant, the primary caretaker of the grounds.

A lost history

The Grant family has a long, involved history with cemeteries. The Grant Cemetery, where many of Robert Grant's distant relatives were buried, no longer exists. It met extinction in 1958, and though the history leaves gaps in the chronology of what happened to those buried there and where the tombstones ended up, the story tells of a family cemetery that fell to an expanding Columbia.

Grant Cemetery, considered a protected property in the mid-1950s, was a site of contention for the widening of Stadium Boulevard. Plans slated for the major roadway were moved to the side of where the graveyard was located to avoid building through it, Watt said.

Later on, the land was purchased by a developer who built houses over the supposed site of Grant Cemetery, where approximately 20 bodies were buried, Watt said.

Newspaper archives reveal the tombstones were found in a dump, then recovered and returned to Bourn Avenue where the cemetery was located before going missing again, according to a Columbia Missourian article from Dec. 14, 1958.

Cecil Grant, a descendant of the pioneering Grant family, said in December 1958 that R.E. Rice, a developer who acquired the property where the cemetery was located on Bourn Avenue, "admitted to him in a telephone conversation that he had removed the stones but didn't know where they had been taken," according to a Dec. 7, 1958 Columbia Missourian article.

"There was some word in the 1980s that they may be in one of the backyards of a house there on Bourn Avenue in a two-car garage," David Sapp, a local cemetery historian, said.

For Grant, the history of the extinct cemetery of his namesake and the resting place of as many as 20 of his distant relatives is somewhat unclear.

"I don't know what happened," he said. Grant added that he knew that the bodies were never moved and the tombstones were recovered, but then lost again.

Newspaper archives from the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Columbia Missourian shed no light on the fate of the bodies buried at Grant Cemetery.

"My educated guess would be that the bodies were never disinterred," Sapp said. "During those times in the 1950s, there was a lot of destruction of family cemeteries. There weren't really laws strictly in place."

"It sure is a shame that we don't know," Sapp said.

What is known about Grant Cemetery is that Sussannah Grant was the first person buried there in 1851. Presumably, the bodies of Sussannah Grant and as many as 20 others are still in their original resting place — somewhere along Bourn Avenue near the intersection of Rollins Road and Stadium Boulevard, according to Watt and Sapp.

Making amends

For Robert Grant, maintaining and looking over Fairview Cemetery, near Fairview Road and Chapel Hill Road, is a simple task that comes with the responsibility of honoring members of his family. He doesn't want the cemetery to be lost to history like the Grant Cemetery.

"This is where I was hatched," Grant said. "I've lived here my entire life, in this neighborhood, besides the four years I was in the service. My whole family is here, too, my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father — they're all buried there."

"Back in the 1800s, you buried your families on the farms where you lived and hopefully no one would destroy them," Watt said. "But that wasn't how it always turned out."

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

Graphic by Heather Adams.

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