Charleston Cemetery looks a lot like any other little graveyard from almost 200 years ago. The plot, less than an acre located between Sixth and Seventh streets off Oberlin and Hamilton avenues in Lorain, is marked front and back by lengths of fence, each featuring an arched entrance crowned with the cemetery’s name in gold lettering. Inside are 40 headstones. Some are original markers; others are simple replacements.
The cemetery owes its restoration to Diane Wargo Medina and the Charleston Village Society, a nonprofit devoted to preserving the area that works with the city. The property wasn’t even recognizable as a graveyard when Medina, a society co-captain, stopped to check it out on her way home from the library on a February 1984 day. The Lorain native, then a 19-year-old cleaning company employee, was aware of its sad history.
The burial ground, established in September 1828 by the village of Black River, had fallen into disuse by the 1880s. It subsequently became part of a residential neighborhood — houses literally were built on top of it. (Although graves supposedly were relocated to Elmwood Cemetery as development progressed, Medina says there are no records of it.) After a 1924 tornado devastated the area, a large portion was turned into a public park. Any remaining headstones were unceremoniously buried. Medina saw evidence of that during her first visit. By that time the park was nothing more than an abandoned lot.
“There were some things that were visible — the dirt had eventually worn away,” remembers Medina, now a cafeteria manager at St. Mary Catholic School in Elyria. “There was a sunken spot, and I kind of, like, moved it around with my hand. I felt something underneath. I came back again with my little shovel and realized there was something there.”
That spring Medina began unearthing grave marker after grave marker, at first using a grill handle, then a putter, to tap the ground for stone. Four years later, she joined forces with the Charleston Village Society to continue the work. Private donations paid for the 1985 rededication marker and, along with funds from the city of Lorain, the fencing.
The names on the markers include those of city founders Daniel T. Baldwin and Barna Meeker, Civil War veteran Augustus Silverthorne and Clarissa Kneeland Porter, a descendant of prominent merchants. Medina admits she’s not sure whether the remains of the people memorialized on the headstones are near their markers or, for that matter, still in the cemetery. Yet six grave markers have been replaced with private donations. The society is working with the city to secure funding to replace 20 more markers, this time with facsimiles of the originals.
Medina says she continues her work for those who still rest in the cemetery.
“When I’m troubled with my own life problems, I go there,” she says. “I feel very, very at ease, as if I’m one of them.”