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Toledo’s Early Catholic Cemeteries (updated July 22, 2015)

by Rosemary A. Chorzempa

In the early days, all cemeteries were located outside of the city or town limits, due to health concerns. So at the founding of Toledo’s public and Catholic cemeteries, they were on the outskirts of town, eventually ending up inside the city.

Not all families or survivors of the deceased could afford carved stone tombstones. Some were wooden and of course did not last long. Some were metal, especially iron in cross shapes. Many early tombstones were made of soft sandstone, which was easy to carve, but the writing soon wore down, making the writing difficult or impossible to read. Some people, even important ones, never had tombstones to mark their graves.

Wooden coffins were the norm, but in the time period of 1850 to 1870, a very few coffins were made of cast iron in the shape of the person, which made them look like iron mummies. These were very durable, and so airtight that the iron mummy coffins that have been opened, showed very little decomposition of the body. These were obviously more expensive than the plain pine boxes. If you search through the Mt. Carmel Cemetery (formerly St. Mary and St. Francis de Sales cemeteries) card file, found online at the LDS website for the Toledo Diocese, you will see photographs of several of these iron mummies.

One more aspect of funerals long ago that Polish genealogists should be aware of, is the custom of taking a group photograph of the survivors, and sometimes of the deceased person as well. This custom was practiced both in Poland and America, up to at least 1930. These photographs were exchanged between relatives in America and back in the old country. One clue to determining whether a particular photograph was made shortly after the funeral of a loved one, is to observe the color of the clothing of those in the photo. Black mourning clothes in these pictures is the give-away. Dating the picture is made easier by noting who is not in the picture, as well as the style of clothing. If you know the date of dziadzia’s death in the old country, his relatives remaining in Poland likely had such a photograph made, and sent it to the family in America; look for a photo that fits the criteria.

All five of the public city of Toledo cemeteries were founded before the city itself (in 1833). The only one that has served the Polish immigrants in Toledo to a major extent has been Forest Cemetery, probably because it is located in north Toledo near the first Polish settlement of Lagrinka.

Forest Cemetery was founded in 1832 by the Bissell family, who donated 10 acres of their family farm for residents of Port Lawrence and Vistula. When these two villages were incorporated into Toledo, the care and ownership was taken over by the city. Forest Cemetery is located at 1704 Mulberry Street, the location of the entrance, and is bounded by Mulberry Street, Sherman Street, Stickney Avenue, Paxton Street and the newly-built Greenbelt Parkway. It now covers over 80 acres. Polish immigrants were buried in Forest in the 1870s and 1880s (and probably later too), as seen by entries in the Toledo city death and burial records of that time, as well as in the parish burial records.

St. Francis de Sales parish was founded in 1842 to serve the Irish immigrants of Toledo. Land was purchased for a cemetery outside the city limits on the northwestern corner of Lagrange Street and Manhattan Boulevard. The oldest burials date from 1843. The strip of land with the sections currently marked 1, 2, 3, 4 along Lagrange Street were not used by St. Francis Cemetery, but contain the German burials from St. Mary’s (founded later). The two cemeteries were divided only by a fence, according to Fr. Edward Hannin (1893). The entrance to St. Francis Cemetery was on Manhattan, between Lagrange and the current cemetery office/garage; the old paved entrance and gates can still be seen on Manhattan, looking north, between section 9 on your left and section 7 on your right. The St. Francis Cemetery was composed of the sections currently numbered 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. The oldest burials in the entire Mt. Carmel Cemetery lie in section 9, just to the left of the old entrance. Most of the earlier burials in St. Francis de Sales Cemetery were of the Irish.

St. Mary Parish was formed in 1854 for German-speaking immigrants, just three blocks north of St. Francis, on Cherry Street. St. Mary Cemetery was on adjacent land at Lagrange and Manhattan, fronting on Lagrange Steet. Beginning at the corner of Manhattan and Lagrange, and progressing northward, the sections are currently numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 (5 is part of the newer additon, not originally part of St. Mary’s). It may just be an assumption, but section 1, the closest to the intersection, may have contained the earliest burials in St. Mary’s. The old entrance to St. Mary’s is shown on the map, on Lagrange Street, in section 1, where part of the original stone fence can be seen. Part of the stone fence can also be seen under the chain link fence, between sections 2 and 3. Section 2 is recorded in St. Mary’s parish books as being laid out specifically for their parishioners, with the owners’ names being recorded with the lot and grave numbers, and the date of purchase, all of which are in the later decades of the 1800s, not at mid-century. Therefore, it is most likely that if you are searching for your Polish ancestor’s grave site before 1890, it is probably in section 1, maybe in 3 or 4.

There are many burials in St. Mary’s and St. Francis’ cemeteries of our Polish ancestors, as recorded in St. Hedwig death/burial records (earliest from 1886, city records date earlier), but no record was kept of the location of such burials, just the notation “St. Mary Cemetery.” We have not found any early Polish burials, and there are no doubt hundreds, at Mt. Carmel Cemetery. No records of the locations were kept by the parishes nor by the cemeteries office. There are no tombstones to mark the grave sites. Many unknown burials were discovered when a grave was being dug in more recent times, where there should have been none. These were recorded on the lot cards for Mt. Carmel Cemetery, these card files probably were started at the time of the cemetery consolidation, expansion and renovation of the 1930s.

An additional 30 to 40 acres of ground was purchased at that time, and the grotto was built. The cemetery was then re-named Mt. Carmel Cemetery, and consecrated by Bishop Karl Alter on November 1, 1936. Sections 5, 6, 13, 14, 15 are the new expansion areas. A large old mausoleum, once located at the west side entrance, was torn down.

When the interstate highways were being constructed in the early 1960s, the Ottawa River, which lies immediately to the north of the cemetery, was rerouted northward so that the highway could occupy the site of the river. The old wooden bridge over the river was also removed. The river was the northern boundary of the city of Toledo before 1900.

St. Patrick parish (now called Historic St. Patrick Church) was founded in 1862 on the high elevation called the Irish Hill, at the corner of Lafayette and Thirteenth streets. In 1863, St. Patrick’s purchased 17 acres of land off Western Avenue between Dale and Champion streets. The northern border of this cemetery was Wayne Street, called Plank Road which ran parallel to the railroad tracks. More than one street in Toledo was named the “Plank Road,” for example Cherry Street; the name was given to roads which were made of wooden planks. The first burials were in November 1863. Between 1889 and 1915, about 600 internments were moved to Calvary Cemetery. By 1917, the St. Patrick cemetery was considered abandoned, and in 1924 the Toledo health department issued a permit to remove the rest of the remains to Calvary Cemetery (section 4, lot 28). Even though this cemetery was an Irish ethnic burial ground, some Poles were buried here from the Kuhschwanz area in the 1870s and 1880s.

St. Peter Parish (in 1914 the parish began to be called Saints Peter and Paul) was founded in 1866 as the second German parish in Toledo. St. Peter Cemetery was located at Western and Wayne Streets, probably next to St. Patrick Cemetery. Burials were made here between 1867 and 1923. In 1928-29, the city of Toledo purchased the land from Saints Peter and Paul parish, and the bodies were moved to Calvary Cemetery. When Polish immigrants started moving into the Kuhschwanz area in 1873, they attended church services and sacraments at St. Peter’s, and were buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, as well as being buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

The following six paragraphs of information about the beginning of Calvary Cemetery was taken from a long letter sent to Bishop Ignatius Horstmann of the Cleveland Diocese on April 17, 1893, by Father Edward Hannin, then Rector of St. Patrick’s.

In 1873, the pastors of St. Mary’s and St. Francis de Sales’ churches were negotiating for the purchase of more land for their cemeteries, which were nearly filled up. Up until 1878, there were only these four Catholic cemeteries in the city of Toledo. The other Catholic parishes at that time, Immaculate Conception, St. Anthony’s, St. Hedwig’s, St. Joseph’s and the three parishes on the east side of the river, Good Sheperd, St. Louis and Sacred Heart, had no cemeteries. The three parishes on the east side petitioned Bishop Richard Gilmour (Toledo was in the Cleveland Diocese until 1910) for permission to purchase property for a cemetery on the east side. The other parishes wanted to do likewise, so each parish would have its own cemetery. However, this thinking only took care of the immediate problem, but not the long-term need for future burial sites. A meeting of all the pastors was held, but the Bishop would not give permission for the purchase of additional grounds for existing parish cemeteries.

Then a committee was appointed to search for grounds for a Catholic Union Cemetery. Father Edward Hannin, being the oldest pastor in Toledo (serving St. Patrick’s from 1862 until 1903), was requested to act as chairman of the committee. Father Hannin searched for land within a radius of 10 miles of Toledo, and found property about a mile outside the city limits on a major road leading into Toledo. Another meeting was held in 1885, with Bishop Gilmour attending. The Bishop, the priests on the committee, and several prominent laymen spent several days examining tracts of land around Toledo, but agreed that the land found by Father Hannin was the proper place for the new Catholic cemetery.

Fifty-one acres were purchased at a very low price. Some wanted to purchase an additional 20 acres adjacent to the property, but Father Hannin thought the price was too high, and large portions of the additional land were so low, making it unsuitable for a cemetery.

A board of directors was formed, with Bishop Gilmour being the president, Father Hannin as vice president, and Father Patrick O’Brien (pastor of Good Sheperd), Mr. Shawl, Father Aloysius Sigg (pastor of St. Mary’s), Mr. Coghlin, Mr. Sheets and several other laymen. Mr. Eurric, a landscapist, was employed to draw up designs and maps. Calvary Cemetery was laid out in very irregular and picturesque sections, with the avenues surrounding the sections being high and dry, and to pass through ravines and low places. All this was only on paper.

In May 1887, workmen were employed to construct the vault, and to lay out the several miles of avenues. A civil engineer was needed on site almost the entire time, to oversee the construction of hundreds of feet of sewerage. Father Hannin was urged by the Bishop and board to take charge of the work, and he accepted the responsibility. Father said he was on site “evey afternoon, and many of the forenoons on the Cemetery grounds, directing and overseeing the work” from the 26th of May 1887 to the first of December 1888.  He never expected, received or accepted any compensation.

At a meeting of St. Patrick’s Cemetery lot owners on March 25, 1888, Father Hannin induced over 300 lot owners to remove their dead from St. Patrick’s Cemetery, purchase lots in the new cemetery, and each received half the amount paid for the lot in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. St. Patrick’s returned or paid back more than one thousand dollars, and this accounts for large sales of lots in Calvary Cemetery in the first years of its existence. None of the other pastors did the same or had the same interest in promoting Calvary Cemetery. Father Hannin could only say he had nothing to do with matters outside his own parish of St. Patrick’s.

Sister Mary Nadine Mathias, SND, of the Toledo Diocesan Archives, found this letter, it being almost the only written record of Calvary Cemetery’s origins in the diocesan archives. Sister Nadine also found that some land was bought and sold to St. John University, some for construction of Parkside Boulevard and some for the railroad.

The following information was taken from old maps and plat books (Toledo, Adams Township, Washington Township). The first parcels bought were located on the northern edge of Adams Township, with additional parcels purchased later in the adjacent southern edge of Washington Township. In 1875, Wm. Hannon and Breckenridge owned the properties that were later sold for the future cemetery’s first location. The Tri-State Fairgrounds were just to the east of the cemetery. In 1888, Bishop Richard Gilmour owned 20 acres, and three small parcels of about 10 acres each were owned by P.H., T.G. and R.B.; these four parcels becoming the new cemetery.

Fifty-one (51.15 actual) acres made up the cemetery until at least 1900, all being located in Adams Township. An additional 44.71 acres was added after 1900 to Calvary Cemetery. This land was purchased from J. F. Kumler.

The Visitation Convent was started in 1915. That same year, the Toledo City Directory gives the following information for Catholic cemeteries in Toledo. The office for Calvary Cemetery was located at no. 319 in the Nasby Building, the cemetery on Dorr, west of the Fair Grounds. The Superintendent was James A. Dailey. St. Francis de Sales Cemetery was on Manhattan Road near Lagrange (the entrance was on Manhattan). St. Mary’s Cemetery was at the corner of Lagrange and Manhattan Blvd; the sexton was Nicholas Faber. The Mausoleum was at the junction of Manhattan Blvd. west and the road west of Lagrange Street, adjacent to what is now known as Mt. Carmel Cemetery at that location. St. Patrick’s Cemetery was at the corner of Dale and Wayne. St. Peter’s Cemetery was at the corner of Western Avenue and Wayne.

Eventually the Diocese of Toledo (actually any diocesan/church property was titled in the bishop’s name) owned over 131 acres on the west side of Parkside Boulevary, from Bancroft Street on the north to Dorr Street on the south. The original cemetery contained 55.15 acres, the cemetery addition contains 44.71 acres, and the Visitation Convent 3.81 acres, St. Francis de Sales High School 9.75 acres, Gesu Church 3.99 acres, and the remaining undeveloped 14.01 acres owned by the bishop.

Calvary Cemetery is now comprised of almost 100 acres, and is located at the corner of Parkside and Dorr Streets, west of Kuhschwanz. Some burials of Poles continued at the smaller Catholic cemeteries, even to this day at Mt. Carmel, but Calvary holds the largest numbers of Polish-Americans. It has recorded over 102,000 burials. The first entries in the cemetery record books are from November 1887. The first Poles recorded in November 1887, are Mary Sawicka (no age), Henry Maholski (age 12, killed by cars), Mary Geteoroski (age 1). Of the 44 entries on page 1, eleven have Polish names.

The burial record books with original entries from Calvary Cemetery, and the newer lot card files from Mt. Carmel Cemetery can be found online at the LDS website for the Diocese of Toledo.

To view a picture of one of the cemetery maps, please click on the link below:

Forest Cemetery Map Mt Carmel Cemetery Map 2013 St Francis & St Mary Cemeteries Map 1891

St Patrick Cemetery Map 1875 St Patrick Cemetery Map 1888 St Peter & St Patrick Cemeteries Map 1891