Pioneer Cemetery is a well kept secret that many Washtenaw County residents have never heard of or seen. It is located in Terhune Pioneer Memorial Park, which is part of the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Department, and is hidden by a grove of trees near the intersection of Packard Road and Highway U.S. 23. Although it is one of the oldest cemeteries in Washtenaw County, it contains only three tombstones and no bodies. The story dates back to 1825 when several families arrived in Woodruff’s Grove via the Huron River and settled in what is now Pittsfield Township. The area became known as “Carpenter’s Corners.” One of the pioneers who settled there was Luke Whitmore. When his 18 year old daughter Emily died, there was no local cemetery available so he set aside a site on his property for a cemetery. Some believe that Emily Whitmore was Washtenaw County’s first-born white child. It was also believed by others that Alpha Washtenaw Bryan was the first non-native American child born in Washtenaw County and was buried there though historians have not been able to confirm that. It is believed that approximately 20 to 50 individuals were buried there. Eventually the ground, consisting of approximately one acre was permanently dedicated as a “cemetery.” John Terhune, who was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, and his wife moved to Michigan in 1831. They settled near the farm of Luke Whitmore, close to “Carpenter’s Corners.” Terhune had served as a Sergeant and Ensign in the Revolutionary War and received nine bayonet wounds. His wife, Sarah, was also a hero in the Revolutionary War. As a girl of seventeen after seeing her aged and bedridden grandfather shot before her eyes by a British officer, she made her way early in the morning through brush and weeds to warn the American Army of the presence of British and Hessian troops camped on a corner of her father’s farm. Her clothes were torn and she was scratched and bleeding when she reached the camp. Ensign John Terhune was a member of the company and a romance started as a result of that first meeting. They were married on December 26, 1779. John died in 1839 and Sarah died in 1850. They were both buried in the cemetery located on the Luke Whitmore farm. The site was referred to over the years by a variety of names including Emily Whitmore Cemetery, Pittsfield Cemetery and the Terhune Burying Grounds. Many of the bodies that were buried in the cemetery were moved to other cemeteries such as the Forest Hill Cemetery on Observation Street in Ann Arbor. In about 1900 the cemetery was in such a state of neglect that the farmer who owned the land around the cemetery piled up the headstones in a corner and tilled the land. In 1909, the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) discovered that the grave of Revolutionary War veteran John Terhune, which had been obscured and forgotten for many years, was in that location. In the early 1920’s the Whitmore home and barn buildings were torn down and a real estate company platted a large portion of the ground and began selling lots. The particular lots which included the cemetery area had not been sold but all of the markers and gravestones were again removed and placed in a pile. The members of the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor chapters of the D.A.R. discovered what had happened, and knowing that Revolutionary Soldiers were buried there, started proceedings in Lansing to reclaim the area as a cemetery. The Boy Scout Troop of Platt became involved in attempting to piece together the broken markers and gravestones and an attempt was made to restore the cemetery. Then in 1939 the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Chapters of the D.A.R. constructed the Pioneer Cemetery just north of the original cemetery. The cemetery consisted of a low rock wall and the gravestones of John Terhune, his wife Sarah and Emily Whitmore. In the cornerstone of the wall was placed: 1) a history of each of the three pioneers; 2) records of the two D.A.R. Chapters; and 3) a photostatic copy of the original deed of the property granted by Luke Whitmore. About 50 members of the two D.A.R. Chapters were present for the naming and dedication ceremony. The ceremony was conducted by Mrs. C. A. Thomas, Regent of the Sara Angell Ann Arbor Chapter and Mrs. Horace Z. Wilber of the Ypsilanti Chapter. Mrs. Thomas donated the stones for the wall and the Ypsilanti Chapter provided the gate in memory of one of its members. For many years classes of students from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti schools visited the site to pay homage to the veterans of wars including the Revolutionary War. In 1955 the Township Board of Pittsfield petitioned the court to vacate the property on which the Pioneer Cemetery was located. The Daughters of the American Revolution went to court and prevented the cemetery from being abandoned. After that time there have been at least two attempts to condemn the Pioneer Cemetery and use the property for other purposes. Finally the property was bought by Bert Smokler who agreed to leave the cemetery intact. Smokler then built the Forestbrooke subdivision and named one of the streets Terhune Road. The general area became the city of East Ann Arbor in 1947 and then in the April 1957 election the property was voted into the City of Ann Arbor. For many years the property was maintained by the Ann Arbor Parks Department with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Conn, who lived next door. Maintenance was a problem because the property south of the cemetery on Packard Road was surrounded by a fence cutting off access to the property except for a very steep bank off Terhune Road. The Conns allowed the City access to the site through their property and often mowed the grass themselves. Then, in 1990 the City installed steps off Terhune Road creating public access to the property. (The information for this article was gleaned from letters, newspaper accounts and court documents in the “Pioneer Cemetery” file located in the Cemetery Collection in the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives.)
Photo Captions: Photo 1: The Pioneer Cemetery is located in Terhune Pioneer Memorial Park near the intersection of Packard Road and U. S. 23. Access is off Terhune Road which is accessible from Brandywine Drive.