Column: Confirming the rumors about a pioneer cemetery

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2002

Not long ago an Albert Lea resident who enjoys walking in the woods told me there was a forgotten cemetery in a small grove of trees south of the city.

Friday, January 18, 2002

Not long ago an Albert Lea resident who enjoys walking in the woods told me there was a forgotten cemetery in a small grove of trees south of the city.

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The small grove of trees he was referring to is located just to the northeast of Exit 5 on Interstate 35 where County Road 13 crosses the freeway.

Another detail this person mentioned was the presence of several tombstones in this cemetery. And he added that one of the tombstones he saw years ago had a 1700s birth date.

These two details, plus some research I did at the Freeborn County Historical Museum Library, inspired me to visit this place. After getting permission from the property owner, Janice Reeder, I made a special trip to this small grove of trees on a knoll next to the freeway. Thanks to the excellent weather the week before Christmas, I was able to check out several rumors and to confirm a few details from my research.

Going to this place was quite a challenge. The underbrush in this wooded area is really thick. It took a few minutes to find this pioneer cemetery. My logic said the burial place would be at or near the highest part of the knoll. I was right.

I found one tombstone leaning against a tree. The inscription had weathered away to nearly nothing. Not far away were two tombstones lying on the leaf covered ground. One seemed to be blank. Maybe the inscription information was on the other side; I wasn’t about to attempt to even lift this slab. The other tombstone had the birth date of 1809 and the year of death as 1876 and a name I couldn’t decipher. I also found the base for a tombstone and part of another tombstone nearby. However, I didn’t find the one with the 1700s date on it.

The tombstone with the dates of 1809 and 1876 I found out later was for Hannah Morrison. And it was her husband’s tombstone I was looking for and never found that afternoon.

Thomas Morrison, Hannah’s husband, was born Sept. 11, 1777, in Belfast, Ireland. He came to the U.S. in 1811 and was an American veteran of the War of 1812. Thomas lived in New York and moved to Freeborn County in 1861. He farmed in Nunda Township and died on Nov. 8, 1876, a few months after his wife’s death. Thomas, age 99, was mentioned in two Albert Lea newspapers as &uot;the oldest man in the county; maybe in the state.&uot; He could also be one of the only veterans from our nation’s second oldest major war to be buried in Minnesota.

The place where the Morrisons and at least three unrelated children are still buried is known as the Green Cemetery. This site in Section 4 of Freeman Township may have also been an Indian (Native American) burial site. There’s no indication that this pioneer cemetery was ever affiliated with any church or association. It was just a neighborhood burial place. Information about this place is rather sparse.

According to research compiled by JoAnn Flugum and Ron Schrader in March 1985, there were 19 known burials made in this cemetery between 1861 and 1911.

Right about here there’s an obvious discrepancy. If five people are still buried on this knoll, then what happened to the other 14 deceased folks?

The answer can be found in the Greenwood Cemetery on the east side of Glenville. Those 14 bodies were moved by their families from the Green Cemetery to the Greenwood Cemetery between 1913 and 1932, according to research done by Flugum and Schrader.

On the list of those still buried in the Green Cemetery are two children. They are Alette and Aletta, the daughters of Tollef and Sigurd Gunderson. There’s no indication as to when these girls with such similar names were born or died.

In the next column we’ll investigate the rumor that this obscure little cemetery was responsible for the rerouting of the freeway. We’ll also feature the story about two of the people who were once buried in this pioneer cemetery.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.