GREEN TOWNSHIP, NJ – Dotted around Sussex County are small burial grounds, usually attached to churches, sometimes on their own because the church is no longer standing.
One exception to that is the Huntsville Burial Ground in Green, which was never part of a church.
Huntsville was one of the earliest settlements in the area. Families came up from Bethlehem Township in Hunterdon County. Three of the family names were Buckner, of German descent, and two English families, Wolverton and Young. The Young family settled what is now known as the Goodhand Farm.
The Young family may have started the Huntsville Cemetery, according to Freeholder Richard Vohden. Snell’s History of Sussex County claims the oldest marker is dated 1780 and appears to be that of a member of the Buckner family.The Sussex County Cemetery Archives list it as :"condition – poor, abandoned."
Vohden and a few others did not want it to stay that way, and founded the Huntsville Burial Ground Reclamation Society, a group dedicated to cleaning up the cemetery grounds and repairing damaged fences.
Vohden formed the group when there were no more trustees of the cemetery living; the last trustee was Harvey Smith. There was no money left in the bank account for maintenance, Vohden said.
The sheriff’s department SLAP workers keep the grass mowed, he added.
The Society’s efforts were not met with welcome by some residents.
“They told us we were desecrating the property and told us to get out,” Vohden recalled.
Not everyone was unhappy, though. Allen Kirby Jr., who owns preserved farmland in the township, “found out about us and gave us a check for $20,000,” Vohden said.
They used the Kirby money to rebuild columns in the gate. Then Kirby gave the group another $20,000 to finish the walls. Kirby later donated another $10,000 to repair the exterior fence.
The group still has $6,000 of the Kirby money remaining.
“Allen Kirby wants to see a split rail fence built in the back,” Vohden said.
Besides members of the early Huntsville families, other prominent people are buried in the tiny cemetery, including Luther Hill, a minister who was the first pastor in Andover Borough, the first superintendent of schools in Sussex County, and a Civil War veteran. Hill also developed Zea Mays or Luther Hill Corn, an heirloom corn breed, in 1902.
Others were not so prominent. Many of the laborers who built the engineering marvel that is the Lackawanna Cutoff are buried, at the rear of the cemetery. There were wooden markers, but they have deteriorated. Workers were housed in three barracks in Green Township.
The last burial in the old cemetery was in 1932, Vohden said, a man who drowned in Cranberry Lake, just over the Byram Township line.
Legend has it someone was paid to bury him in a cheap pine box. When the grave digger hit a rock, the grave was not deep enough, so he jumped on the box, and it broke. The neighborhood smelled for days.
The Sussex County Historical Society has a list of those buried in the cemetery and there are no dates as recent as 1932, but the list is incomplete and some names and dates are listed as “illegible.” And, of course, cost may have precluded marking that grave.
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