August 17, 2013 - Amy Lavalley, Post-Tribune
PORTER — The handful of volunteers for Saturday’s stewardship day at Bailly Cemetery in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore got a bit of local history before they set to work cutting the grass, trimming trees and pulling weeds, among other tasks.
While the Bailly family buried their dead there — Robert Bailly, son of family patriarch Joseph Bailly, was the first, in 1827 — early Europeans, as well as Native Americans, also utilized the burial ground, said Beth Hudick, a park ranger with the lakeshore.
The Baillys’ neighbors also used the cemetery, angering Rose Bailly Howe, Joseph Bailly’s daughter, and she walled off the cemetery.
Ultimately, the cemetery was enclosed in limestone walls and, later, was filled in with sand, so no tombstones are visible, though memorial plaques for Joseph Bailly and his wife, Marie, as well as Rose Bailly Howe and her husband Francis, are on the south wall.
A large pine cross, visible over the limestone walls, also marks the cemetery, which is located a short walk from the park’s headquarters on Mineral Spring Road. The cross has been replaced a number of times over the years.
“It’s just kind of a strange design for a pioneer cemetery, but it’s a really cool place,” Hudick said.
According to a 1976 Historic Structure Report by the National Park Service, Bailly Cemetery is the oldest white cemetery in Porter County. When the park service acquired the property in the 1970s, Hudick said, a decision was made to restore the cemetery to how it looked around 1915, because excavating the site and restoring it to how it was in the 1800s wasn’t feasible.
With modern gardening tools in hand, including a lawn mower and weed whacker, cleaning up the graveyard as though it were the 1800s wasn’t possible, either.
“We’re not doing this in the historic fashion,” Hudick joked as the crew got their tools before heading to the cemetery.
The volunteers got right to work. Sue Burns of Lake Station pulled weeds from the cemetery’s steps, and then took to tree trimming. Burns became familiar with the park walking her dog on the trails.
“I decided I wanted to give back,” she said, adding she’s picked up a wealth of information from the park’s rangers, particularly about invasive plant species. “I’ve learned what not to put in my garden at home.”
Sue Ruble of Valparaiso mowed around the limestone walls. The Valparaiso resident has more time to volunteer now that she’s retired from her own business.
“It’s just such a national treasure in this area that so many people take for granted,” she said.
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