Local man hosts national event at Canton cemetery
CANTON — As a boy, Brent Holland remembers wandering around Locust Field Cemetery, enjoying the scenery and visiting graves of distant ancestors.
Now, after taking a DNA test and finding out those ancestors aren’t quite as distant as he thought, Holland spends painstaking hours of every day either clearing cemetery plots, tracing his lineage further or compiling data for findagrave.com, a website which is dedicated to linking each grave to a proper match, which is why he is organizing an event there for National Cemetery Day.
Locust Field boasts a rich history — so rich in fact that Holland is trying to get the cemetery placed on the National Register of Historical Places. Buried in the cemetery is one man who fought in the Revolutionary War and a whole host of people who fought in the Civil War. And if that wasn’t enough, the site was a muster point for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
The cemetery has been controversial for over a century. Initially, it was part of a 1,200-acre plot owned by Holland’s fifth great grandpa, Ambrose Pharr, who died in 1878 without a will. When he passed away, there was a dispute over who would inherit the land. After some back-and-forth, 80 acres of the land fell to Pharr’s widow, who designated three acres to be a cemetery to bury all of her descendants.
And in accordance with her wishes, Locust Field has served as a cemetery only for individuals who came from her bloodline. The cemetery is unique because no one pays to be buried there — it’s all based on reputation and family ties.
“It’s one of the last paces in the country where it’s done on a word and a handshake,” Holland said.
Because the land was not properly passed down through the generations and neither a church nor the state claimed the cemetery, it is technically considered abandoned. Although the city of Canton takes care of it, Holland said it has done less and less each year to maintain the cemetery.
This has left him with the responsibility of trying to clear overgrown trees and brush form the edges of the cemetery in order to create more space.
“The reason we felt we wanted to take part in the nationwide event is we were out and started counting the spaces we have for new plots and we realized we can’t accommodate anyone,” he said. “So we want to see if we can make room for more plots.”
For Holland, who works for Mission Health, cleaning up the cemetery has become a second full-time job. In addition to improving the land, he has set up a website, a Facebook page and a gofundme.com page for the cemetery.
The problem with the cemetery is that many of the grave sites have fallen into disrepair. Beyond the brush and long grass that cover so many of the graves, there are safety hazards where headstones have broken and graves have sunk deep into the ground.
Holland said he hopes the event will cultivate a renewed interest for so many of the people who share his heritage and lineage. While there will be work involved — he anticipates guests will be assisting him in clearing grave sites and cleaning and repairing grave stones. He hopes the event will bring people together and even be somewhat of a party.
The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8 at Locust Field Holland Pharr Cemetery, 45 Pennsylvania Ave., across from the public library in Canton.