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Importance of Pine Ridge Cemetery Endures.
by Marvin Kusmierz
August 7, 2005

The historical Pine Ridge cemetery on the south east corner of Ridge Road and Tuscola Road in Bay City needs your help. Decades of neglect has permitted nature to reclaim much of this hallow sanctuary which represents the city’s first formal cemetery on the east side of the river.

A Brief History.

Pine Ridge cemetery came into existence around 1858. It was built by James Birney so that his brother, George, would have a proper burial place. Until then, the only east side burial grounds Potters Field, an informal burial grounds south of Columbus and west of Washington avenues. Pine Ridge quickly became the preferred burial place for most living on the east side of the river.

Many of the community’s early pioneers are buried at Pine Ridge, including its founder, James Birney and members of his immediate family. It is also the final resting place of many Civil War veterans.

The cemetery began to deteriorate during the 1950s, after inheritors of the cemetery lost track of it, and no one could be identified as its owner. The cemetery went without any regular maintenance until a few years ago when a non-profit group, Friends of Pine Ridge, was formed to try and restore the cemetery. They’ve made some progress which has been slow due to insufficient funds to move any faster in meeting the cemetery’s many needs.

The condition of the Pine Ridge may have deteriorated greatly, but its importance to families with relatives buried has never diminished, nor has its importance to the history of this community. The cemetery is in need of major help to recover.

Personal Experiences Regarding Its Importance.

I’ve had two personal contacts at the cemetery over the past year or so, that demonstrate its significance it has to individuals who family members buried there.

Lower right - burial markers of Kay McVety's relatives.

While at the cemetery this past week, I met Kay McVety who was there in search of the grave sites of family members. Kay said she has wanted to see these grave sites ever since she was a child. She recalled for me, how as a child she learned from her mother about family being buried here. They often passed the cemetery along Tuscola Road when heading to their vacation destination. Each time her mother pointed out to her that family was buried at the cemetery, and that some day they will stop to find them. That never happened.

That is, until this week when Kay decided to make the trip here from LeRoy, MI, to search for the grave site of her relatives. I offered to help her look, even though I wasn't sure how it would take or even we could find them. All Kay had to go on was here mentioning were buried about four rows back from Tuscola Road. From my eye view, there aren't discernable rows left to the cemetery. We started the search with the grave sites closest to the road and worked our way back and forth in an easterly direction from there.

The tasked turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated. We found her family small markers sitting in the shade of some nearby trees. Both were in excellent condition for their age. It was a sight that sent Kay jumping and screaming with excitement as tears of joy flowed from her eyes. I'm glad that by chance I was able to asorb her emotional happiness.

Click Image to Enlarge.

Grave stone of Civil War soldier
James Gordon.

Veterans section includes canon.

James Birney's family site.

Grave marker of William Daglish.

Seamans Cemetery.
Grave buried among trees & shrubs.

The other occasion took place one day in the veteran’s section of the cemetery about a year ago. I was taking some pictures of the Civil War veterans area when and elder gentle arrived. We exhanged greetings acknowledging each other presence, the he called to my attention that his great-grandfather was buried there and I followed him so he could show me the grave marker of James Gordon, Company E, 8th Michigan Infantry. Proudly, he told that his great-grand father was a flag-bearer in the military unit assigned to President Lincoln. .

I’m sure there are countless other stories similar to those I experienced about Pine Ridge cemetery. While I don’t have family buried there that I am aware of, the cemetery still has an importance to me because of what it means to those that have family there, and what it represents to the history of our community.

Had it not been for the Friends of Pine Ridge in fighting back nature, Kay may never have found the grave sites of her relative, and after the passing of soldier Gordon’s great-grandson, his marker may have disappeared from view as well. But, a great effort is required to return Pine Ridge to its proper condition so that future generations will be able to seek out their ancestors interned at Pine Ridge.

Pine Ridge Needs Help.

The Friends of Pine Ridge have made progress in making the grounds walkable. At least most the grave markers are now visible. However, there is much work still to be accomplished that require major donations of money, services or volunteering time to overcome nature’s tenacity to cover the grounds with its own design.

The ground covering is mainly weeds with only a few grass blades struggling for space to grow. Many grave markers are tilted, tipped-over or gone. The narrow carriage width road which circles within the cemetery little room along its edge parking cars. The chain-link fencing that runs along a high slope from Ridge Road has to be source of frustration in trying to keep out weeds and wild grass. The dead trees have been removed so they can do no further damage to grave sites and markers, but much trimming is required on the other old trees which are also a threat to nearby graves.

The work done through the Friends of Pine Ridge certainly has slowed down nature’s strangle hold on the grounds, and they’ve been doing what they can within their means to improve the cemetery’s appearance. A new main sign now greets visitors, a number of grave sites of historical significance have new markers denoting this. A new building is in place on the south edge of the cemetery to store maintenance equipment and supplies. Work continues to clear brush and trees in the Seamans cemetery that adjoins the south property of Pine Ridge.

The grounds is need of a weed removal program so grass can thrive once again around the grave markers. Many markers are in bad shape and some need to uprighted or fixed due to vandalism. Others have not withstood time and are no longer legible or are missing, and they need some kind of marker installed identifying who is buried there. That will take research if possible, and some generous donations to create new markers. As visits to the cemetery increase a new parking area may be necessary. A parking area along the south edge of cemetery would eliminate any need to use the path built for the horse and buggy era.

If you are concerned about Pine Ridge, I hope you will do what you can to help the Friends of Pine Ridge so that the appearance of the cemetery can once can be representative of the importance of the individuals that are buried there.

Donations of all sizes, providing free services, or volunteering time to the cause will get it done. How soon that will happen is pretty much up to us. See the {Friends of Pine Ridge} Personals web page for futher information.

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