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Archive for Monday, May 25, 1998

RECOVERY COMPLETE FOR BLACK CEMETERY

May 25, 1998

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— About 120 people turned out for the rededication of a refurbished black cemetery north of Lawrence.

Relatives of dozens of people buried in the Lakeview-Crowder-Lewis Cemetery recaptured a part of their history Sunday when the cemetery was rededicated after nearly 50 years of neglect.

``It means a whole lot,'' said Loran Lewis, 73, Topeka, who has relatives buried in the cemetery. ``We came up here five or six years ago, and we couldn't get up here.''

Members of the Lecompton Historical Society and the Lewis family were on hand for Sunday's dedication of the cemetery.

About 120 people attended the ceremony, which included singing and an overview of the site's recent restoration efforts.

``This day is important for the history of Douglas County and Lecompton,'' said Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society. ``We save this site ... for future generations to honor and visit.''

The cemetery, which sits on an acre of land on a hill east of Lecompton, was donated in the 1870s by J.M. Crowder to blacks as a place to bury their dead.

At least 50 people were buried in the cemetery -- many from the Lewis family -- between 1879 and 1940.

Following massive flooding in the 1950s, in which a nearby black church was inundated, the area fell into a period of abandonment.

The cemetery remained virtually untouched until 1987, when members of the Douglas County Genealogical Society were granted permission from a nearby landowner to visit and document the cemetery.

Iona Spencer, who is active in genealogy and Lecompton history, then set about trying to restore the site.

There are no public roads to the cemetery. Visitors must either walk or drive across a private field to gain access.

Uncooperative property owners made access difficult until last year, when about 30 volunteers were granted access to clean up the area by removing dead trees and brush.

A second cleanup was held in February.

Randy Cheek, who owns land nearby, has been keeping the cemetery mowed since it was cleaned.

Spencer said all of the hard work paid off Sunday.

``There's just no words to tell you what a thrill it is,'' she said.

``I think it's very enlightening, touching,'' said Denver resident Leon Lewis, 77, a direct descendant of many of the people buried at the site.

``It's just wonderful,'' said Irene Lewis Gentry, 82, Topeka, whose mother and grandmother are buried in the cemetery.

``It's been such a long time since I've been here.''

``We're pleased that it's been restored to its rightful place in history,'' Bahnmaier said.

-- Mike Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is mdekker@ljworld.com.

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