On Monday, October 14 at the Milford City Council meeting, Councilwoman Katrina Wilson announced that members of her ward were planning a Clean-Up Day at the Milford Community Cemetery on Saturday, November 9, starting at 10 am. Councilwoman Wilson said that in addition to volunteers, the group was asking for donations of paint, brushes and rollers as they plan to paint the fence that surrounds the section of the cemetery that sits on the corner of North Church and North Walnut Streets, known by some in Milford as the Levi Cemetery.
“I think the City is going to supply the paint for that project,” City Manager Richard Carmean said. “We also plan to repair the fence surrounding the property.” Councilwoman Wilson explained that the group arranging for the clean-up had looked into the possibility of grants for the project, but found there were really none available.
“I notice there are a lot of tombstones that have fallen over out there,” Councilman Dirk Gleysteen asked. “I know that the families are ultimately responsible for the upkeep of those stones, but let’s face it, families move on and they may not even be in the area. Is there any way that money can be used from the Perpetual Fund to fix those and make them look nicer?” Councilwoman Wilson explained that the funds placed in the Perpetual Fund account were severely restrictive.
“Mr. Sipple [of Sipple & Son Monuments] came out with his crew and they have fixed the ones that they could,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “It would be nice if there was a way to keep those memorials in good shape as they are a monument to citizens who have passed on.”
The part of the Milford Community Cemetery planned for clean-up was originally an African-American cemetery in Milford. Due to segregation, the brick wall between the main section of the cemetery and the small section on the corner separated the graves from those of whites who were then buried in what was known as the Odd Fellows Cemetery, managed by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows began in Baltimore, Maryland in 1819, and there are many explanations for the name of the group. One explanation is that it was one of the first fraternity lodges to allow working class members. Others claim that during the time of industrialization, it was “odd” to find people who valued charity and benevolence. During the yellow fever epidemic in Baltimore in 1819, the Odd Fellows, and their female counterparts, the Rebekah’s, visited the sick, despite the fact that they were exposing themselves to a serious illness. Possibly as an outreach of that epidemic, burying the dead became an important factor to the Odd Fellows, and lodges began purchasing land to establish cemeteries as they expanded throughout the United States. Often, the plots were sold for just a few dollars, even to those who were not members of the fraternity, and for those that were, the entire burial costs were borne by the organization.
When the Odd Fellows organization disbanded due to financial reasons in Milford, a group of concerned individuals, who called themselves the Levi Club, took over caring for the small section of the cemetery on the corner. Councilman James Starling was a member of the group, and at the council meeting indicated that many of the group had reached an age where caring for the cemetery was no longer possible. It is unclear when sections of the wall between the old Odd Fellow’s portion of the cemetery and the smaller section on the corner were removed to unite the two.
Individuals that would like to volunteer to help with the clean-up, or that are is willing to donate supplies can contact the Milford City Offices at 424-3712 or Councilwoman Wilson at 422-2054.