Cemeteries of Leelanau

Varying forms of cemeteries have been around for centuries, in almost every culture across the world. People need a place to lay their loved ones to rest and to be able to visit and remember them. Over the years, burial sites have become “places where the living could return to visit their ancestors. Because the deceased cannot actively participate in the ceremony, burial customs are more for the living as are the monuments and memorials we build. Monuments and the inscriptions on them demonstrate respect, love for the deceased, reassurance of an afterlife, a permanent display of religious views and sentiments, and the status of the family. Cemeteries contain detailed documentation of history in every stone,” (https://mchistory.org/perch/resources/4-cemetery-history-2015.pdf). 

There are three prominent types of cemeteries in Leelanau County that we will be featuring in this post. 

The first type of cemetery we will cover are religious cemeteries (also one of the oldest types). These cemeteries are operated and owned by a religious group and are utilized by their parishioners. In Leelanau County, these are most often graveyards that are connected or associated with a particular church. One example of this kind of cemetery is the St. Wenceslaus Church near Gills Pier.  The property for the cemetery and church was donated by the Kolarik family, and the land for the cemetery was blessed on October 1, 1890, by Bishop Richter. The church and cemetery are on the State Register of Historic Places and there is a Michigan Historical Marker on site. An iconic feature of this graveyard are the ornate cast iron crosses, which were mostly made by Charles Andera. He immigrated with his parents from the Czech Republic in 1962, and resided in Iowa. His cast iron grave markers can be found in cemeteries of Czech communities across the country.

St. Wenceslaus Church and Graveyard c.1909, this is the original church which was rebuilt as a brick building in 1914.

The second type of cemetery we are featuring is family burial grounds, which are normally on privately owned land meant for the burial of the family members of the landowner. These sites were more common in the 19th and 20th centuries in rural America because townships weren’t always established yet and farmers had the land to bury their own. Sometimes, these burial sites also included members of families from surrounding farms.  One example we have in Leelanau County is the Kelderhouse Cemetery in Port Oneida. This cemetery was founded by Thomas Kelderhouse shortly after  1862 “when he set aside a small parcel of the Kelderhouse farmstead for a ‘community’ burial ground,” (https://digmichnews.cmich.edu/?a=d&d=LeelanauLE19960229-01.1.50&srpos=1&e=——-en-10-LeelanauLE-1–txt-txIN-kelderhouse+cemetery———). The oldest marked grave is from 1867 of James Kelderhouse. It is now owned and kept up by the township, which is the case for family burial grounds. As time has gone on, the use of privately owned cemeteries has dwindled for many reasons: cost of care and upkeep, the family land was sold, no living family members, etc. For some of these burial sites, the township has taken over the ownership and upkeep.

The last type we will be talking about is municipal cemeteries. These burial sites are owned and cared for by the local township, city, or county. They generally fall under the supervision of the public works department and can be subsidized by the local government, though some are self-funding through the sale of burial plots or endowments. These types of cemeteries are operated under the terms set for in the municipalities cemetery ordinance. Michigan Law, Act 113 (Chapter 128.61) of 1915 states that “The Township Board of each township shall have the authority and it shall be its duty to cause all cemeteries within its township, except private cemeteries and cemeteries owned by cities and villages located in such townships, to be properly taken care of.” Some municipal cemeteries will have a “Sexton” who manages the affairs and duties of the cemetery. 

An example of a township-owned cemetery in Leelanau County is Beechwood Cemetery in Leland.  

 A picture of the funeral of Sgt. Benjamin David Minsker at the Beechwood Cemetery, 1934.

The photograph we are using for the cover of the post is of an unknown cemetery. If you have any guesses as to its location, please email us at archives@leelanauhistory.org.