Amelia Rutherford died at the age of 21 while giving childbirth in 1867 and was buried in Smiley Cemetery.
Nearly 150 years later, Bart Weddle found Rutherford’s headstone had sunk underground at the cemetery located in Franklin. Weddle, a retired Franklin resident, started a mission to replace her headstone and others that had gotten knocked over and buried under up to eight inches of dirt.
“These are incredible finds,” Weddle said of the headstones. “This cemetery of 100 people had been forgotten about and someone needed to do something about it.”
Weddle has lived near Smiley Cemetery for 56 years. As time went on, he noticed the grass was waist high and many of the stones are underground.
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“This was a disgrace to the people who are out there because many veterans are out there,” Weddle said. “They deserve better than that.”
Last winter, Weddle went to the cemetery three to four times a week to begin cleaning up. He started by getting all the headstones above ground, cleaning them and repairing them, if needed.
“It is an incredible feeling to find these and put them back where they belong,” Weddle said.
Revitalizing the cemetery didn’t stop there. Weddle put up a flag pole and put solar lights on veterans’ graves. Often, his neighbors would help by moving stones when needed.
From fixing the stones to honoring the veterans with solar lights, Weddle funded all the work himself. He said it was worth every penny spent.
His modest viewpoint helped Weddle win an appreciation award from the American Legion for his work at the cemetery.
“It was a tremendous honor to win that and I was very surprised,” Weddle said. “No one asked me to start going out there, but I knew I needed to.”
Weddle knows of other abandoned cemeteries in Johnson County, and said he hopes a group of people will give their time to help clean those cemeteries, too.
“If other people would go out there and volunteer, it would be a good movement,” Weddle said. “It’ll give the veterans and those out there the respect they deserve.”