Lost Legacy: History enthusiast unearths family cemetery in Pinora Twp.

The year was 1872. The Gould family of Pinora Township was grieving the loss their daughter, Priscilla. Buried on a quiet hill near their home, she faded into the vast web of Gould family history, with not even a headstone to keep her memory alive.

Now, in the overgrown countryside, weathered ATV tracks and power lines at the far reaches of Pinora Township, Priscilla’s remains may serve as the marker of an elusive family secret.

Sid Woods is a Pinora resident and a member of the Chase Historical Society. In addition to owning and operating a cattle farm, Woods is an avid history buff.

“I guess I’ve probably always been interested in history,” Woods said. “I was always around older relatives who told stories. That kind of sparked an interest in the past, and when I had a little time available I’d look up local history.”

It was this fascination with the past which led Woods to discover the Gould family cemetery almost 140 years after Priscilla Gould’s death.

While pouring over microfilm records of articles from the Lake County Star, Woods came across an article from 1874 that made mention of a cemetery “just north of the village” of Pinora. This came as puzzling news, since Woods had never heard of a cemetery located in that area.

Spurred on by curiosity, Woods made a trip to the Lake County Courthouse, where he found the 1877 deed for the three-acre cemetery, located in section 30 of Pinora Township, as well as the death certificate for Priscilla Gould.

He could find no mention of her death in local papers, but the Lake County Star did publish an obituary for another local man some years later, stating that he, too, was buried in the cemetery “just north of the village.”

With proof of the cemetery’s existence in his hands, Woods was able to begin unraveling the mystery of how it has been forgotten.

Pinora Township Supervisor Victoria Dennett has become heavily involved in the cemetery project since Woods’ discovery in 2011, and said it is likely the Gould family sold the cemetery from their 80-acre estate to the township after having already buried some family members there, including Priscilla.

“Back then, families buried their dead on their own property,” Dennett said. “Gould dedicated three acres to Pinora Township for the cemetery.”

The problem came when Gould moved away in 1880 and sold his entire 80 acres to another man, failing to mention the presence of a cemetery owned by the township. The land changed hands again when it was later sold to be logged, and then given over to the state after taxes levied on it were no longer being paid.

Now that the cemetery has been discovered once more, Dennett said the township is hoping to uncover a piece of its history and memorialize it in some way this summer. The years of neglect and modern development, however, have created some complications.

International Transmission Company power lines have been constructed in section 30 of the township, and one of the poles sits directly on the cemetery.

“Power lines also go through the area where the property is situated, so we’ve been working with ITC,” Dennett said. “If we can find where the bodies are burried, they’re going to give us that little area. They’re going to help us do a little bit of landscaping around it so people don’t desecrate the site.”

According to Charlie DeVries, the area manager for ITC Michigan, the land around the power lines is heavily trafficked by ATVs and other off-road vehicles. The land surrounding the cemetery has been seriously disturbed.

Nothing is certain when it comes to ITC’s potential involvement in protecting the cemetery, DeVries said. As of yet there is no physical evidence of the bodies. The ownership of the land under the power lines is also up in the air.

“The reality might be that the land underneath might not actually be owned by our company,” DeVries said. “It could be state forest land, or it could be DNR land. We’ve committed to doing anything we can to help. It seems to be an area that is used by ATVs, and we don’t want people running into the poles and getting hurt.”

In order to solve the mystery once and for all, Pinora Township has scheduled a survey of the three-acre plot for Wednesday, July 9, by Farrier Surveying Inc. out of Kalkaska. The company will use ground penetrating radar to detect any remains left in the area.

Members of the DNR visited Section 30 last Tuesday to stake out the three-acre plot, which will allow surveyors to narrow their search. While nothing is certain, the parties involved remain excited about the prospect of uncovering local history.

“It would be one of the oldest cemeteries for sure, at least in Pinora Township” Woods said.

David Fisher, the DNR unit manager for Baldwin, said the next steps will depend on the outcome of next week’s survey.

“If something is found, then we’ll work with the township to do some sort of memorial. It all depends on what we find,” he said. “We just need to determine whether there’s anything there and then we’ll work with all three parties.”

DeVries said ITC is interested not only in the company’s stake in the area, but also in working with the township to preserve the site.

“We are interested in the historical aspect,” he said. “If there ends up being anything that we can do to recognize the site, we’re interested in exploring that further as well.”