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Hidden History: The Crows Nest Cemetery

Sometimes I run across a bit of history by accident while researching another topic. This post is a perfect example of this. A few weeks ago I was researching a few things about the Crows Nest neighborhood on the northside of Indianapolis, around Spring Mill Road and Kessler. While looking at the various homes along Sunset Road south of Kessler on MapIndy (several are owned by Indiana University for reason), I spotted a small unmarked square parcel (see sliding gallery below) which was surrounded by other residential parcels. Aerial images showed the small parcel was entirely wooded, with no signs of any structures.

Clicking on the parcel revealed an unexpected description: "Cemetery Abandoned - Under Jurisdiction Washington Twp Trustee." Before checking with the trustee's office, I decided to check maps for this area. I've spent quite a bit of time looking at maps of Marion County/Indianapolis, and this area of the city in particular, including some cemetery research, and I didn't recall a cemetery in this location.

I checked the Condit, Wright & Hayden Map of Marion County from 1855, and Warner Map of Marion County from 1866. Neither showed a cemetery at this location. In reviewing the Washington Township Trustee's office website I found that the cemetery is most commonly known as the Crows Nest Cemetery, and is one of several pioneer cemeteries in Washington Township maintained by the trustee's office. The website notes that a survey exists for the cemetery. I requested a copy, but as of press time, I have not received a response from the trustee.

However, other resources were located. First, the Find A Grave website has a page for the cemetery, and a listing of 76 graves, many with photos. The description notes that the cemetery has "significant poison ivy growth." The Genealogical Society of Marion County ("GSMC"), also has an excellent webpage with some background on the cemetery, a sizeable list of those interred at the cemetery, and a map of the cemetery, created in 2004 during a major renovation of the cemetery (apparently all Washington Township pioneer cemeteries underwent similar maintenance around 2004). The detailed survey/list of the cemetery was done by Bob Galloway, with the GSMC. The map details the grave locations and the sites are numbered, which corresponds to the cemetery records, also available on that page. The map appears below and the original image can be viewed here. I suspect this survey is the same as what is contained in trustee's office. 

Map created by Bob Galloway in 2004 and available on the Genealogical Society of Marion County.

Per the GSMC, the cemetery is "minimally maintained" at the request of some of the residents who prefer the vegetation to grow, partially obscuring the head stones and monuments ("softening" the view from their backyards)." I'm guessing the residents would rather not be reminded of the cemetery in their back yards, and/or would prefer not to encourage curious visitors.  

As shown on the GSMC and Find a Gave webpages, there are roughly 70 known gravesites in the cemetery, although based on the photos some of markers are in poor condition and difficult to read. The listing of burials is a who's who of pioneer Washington Township families. A look at the aforementioned Marion County maps from 1855 and 1866 (below) show many of the names of families now in the cemetery as living in the area around the cemetery. The red mark on the maps is an approximate location of the cemetery.

After the Federal government obtained the land where Indianapolis now sits from the Native Americans in the 1818 Treaty of St. Mary's, this "New Purchase" was opened to purchase and settlement. The original purchasers of the land which would become Crows Nest included names such as Joseph Scott, Andrew Jones, Alexander and John Pugh, and Isaac Stephens. Most of these date to 1822. Often these original buyers would sell out to others moving into the area, so the lack of these names on the 1855 and 1866 maps is not surprising (although the Pugh name reappears in 1866)

An article in the Indianapolis News in March of 1979, described how the land where the cemetery stands had been purchased by a early settler named Charles Leming in 1829. When his wife died, Charles carved out a one acre plot from his farm as a cemetery. In 1840, at the time of his death, his will allegedly contained a provision which permanently established the cemetery, although due to excessive debt, the land was sold to George Bruce at auction. The cemetery records indicate no members of the Leming family as being buried there, although it is possible they are just unmarked and lost to time.  

Also at the cemetery are a few members of the Bacon family. Many are familiar with Bacon Swamp, near Keystone and 56th Street. This swampy area is named for attorney Hiram Bacon, one of the earliest settlers in Marion County, and the owner of the land on which the swamp sits, in addition to much of the surrounding area.  The Bacon family deeded land on the southeast corner of Keystone and Kessler to the county for use as cemetery, although none of the Bacon family is actually buried on that land. Historic Indianapolis has a post about this cemetery which can be viewed here

The connection between the Crows Nest Bacons and the Bacons farther east is questionable. Oliver Johnson, in his memoir, A Home in the Woods, recounted how when he was young, likely in the early 1830's, he and his brothers took corn to the Spring Mill for grinding. At the time, according to Johnson, a Seth Bacon ran the mill. No Seth Bacon is buried at Crows Nest, and whether Seth is related to the other Bacons in Crows Nest is unclear, as is the connection to Hiram Bacon's family a little to the east. I could also not find any other reference to Seth operating Spring Mill, and I wonder if Johnson may have been thinking of another mill in the area. (Seth Bacon also built mills on the White River, Fall Creek near Millersville, and was a contractor on the Central Canal)

No Bacons are identified as original patentees to the property in the Crows Nest area, nor are any identified as owning land the area of the cemetery in later maps. The cemetery records available on the GSMC indicates that Joel and Dema Bacon, both buried in Crows Nest, were married (Dema's maiden name was Sharpe/Sharp, another large Washington Township family who owned land north of the cemetery), and Joel is noted as being a son of Hiram Bacon and his first wife, Mary Alice Blair Bacon, although this was the only source I found for this particular piece of information.  The rest of the Hiram Bacon family is buried in Crown Hill.

Indianapolis Indiana State Sentinel, April 15, 1852

By 1855, the site of the Spring Mill (located slightly northwest of the cemetery site in the maps above) was owned by John Krise (sometimes also spelled Krice). A 1944 article in the Indianapolis Star discussing the naming of Spring Mill Road noted that Krise had operated the Spring Mill from around 1840 to 1860. In 1855 the cemetery was located near his property, which accounts for the members of Krise family interred there. Krise was also involved in the Democratic Party in Washington Township, and was a delegate at the township's 1852 convention (right) at Robert Earl's home (near Broad Ripple). Note the members of Blue family as attendees (see an earlier blog posting about the Blue family here), along with Oliver Johnson. Other names appearing on this list are also in the Crows Nest Cemetery, including Bomgardner and Hessong. 

The largest number of family members at the cemetery are from the Hessong family, whose various members owned significant land holdings in the area, starting with Peter Hessong, and his two wives, Catherine and Sarah. After Peter's death in 1860, the remains of his estate, or at least that which was not taken by Sarah, was to be sold at n estate sale. The list of items for sale shows his primarily agricultural background, including horses, cattle, wagons, crops still in the field, and household materials. Peter's brother, David, served as an administrator of the estate.   

Indianapolis News, October 6, 1959

Other families in the cemetery also owned land in the area. The Mustard family owned land south of Broad Ripple, and down into present day Butler Tarkington and Meridian Kessler. Lorenzo and Hannah Vanscyoc owned several large tracts in the same area. Lorenzo was a justice of the peace, county commissioner, and in a few sources, was identified as a lawyer. The Vanscyoc family also owned land north and south of Broad Ripple, and were involved in farming.

An article from the Indianapolis Journal in July 21, 1876 reported that Lorezeno, identified as an "old farmer of the county and at one time member of the board of commissioners," had been working in his barn when a pile of lumbar fell on him and crushed his foot. The report noted that he might lose the foot from the injury. This injury likely contributed to Lorenzo's death on September 1 of that year. The Journal reported that 1500 attended the funeral in Broad Ripple. Interestingly, the burial location was noted as the "Bruce burying ground."

An indicator of how closely connected many of these early Indianapolis families were, was evidenced on February 21, 1848, when the Indianapolis Indiana State Journal (right) reported the marriages of two members of Vansyoc family, Ruth and Sarah, to two members of local families whose names appear in the Crows Nest Cemetery, William Mustard and Peter Hessong. Sarah was Peters second wife mentioned above, following the death of Catherine.

Lorenzo's second wife, Esther Jane, survived him and lived until 1905. She remarried after Lorenzo's death and is buried in Union Chapel Cemetery. In 1896, long after Lorenzo's death, a lawsuit was filed against Esther by a Mary F. Privett for $3,619 in pay owed for services rendered. Apparently when she was five years old, in 1862, Ms. Privett's family had bound her to the Vanscyoc's to provide services for the family, with pay, until she was of age. She lived with the family until Lorenzo's death, and then agreed to continue to work for Esther until her re-marriage in 1882. Payment was allegedly not made during this time. 

Indianapolis Star, June 4, 1928

According to the available surveys of the graves at the Crows Nest Cemetery, the most recent burial was Albert Cole, a local physician and Crows Nest resident who died in 1928 at the age of 58 years. News reports regarding Dr. Cole's death indicate he was cremated, although there is a grave stone for him in the cemetery. No other members of his family are known to be at the cemetery. 

While the cemetery lies adjacent to a home once owned by Eli Lilly (built in 1928 and now owned by Indiana University), none of the Lilly family is buried in the cemetery. The 1979 article in the Indianapolis News about the neighborhood quoted Lilly as noting that while he was living in the area, someone would visit the cemetery only about once a year.

More recently, the cemetery appears to be little noticed, save for the occasional news story. Its location, surrounded by an exclusive and less accessible neighborhood, and the lack of living, or knowledgeable, descendants of those buried probably contributed to this.

In 1980, the Indianapolis News (right) highlighted a local scout named Chris Kappes, whose Eagle Scout project was to clean up the cemetery, including righting grave stones which had been knocked, or fallen, down.  Later, in the early 2000's a substantial project to rehab all the of the Washington township pioneer cemeteries was launched, and spearheaded by the "Graveyard Groomer," John Walter, from Connersville. Mr. Walters has worked to restore several old cemeteries in Indianapolis and Marion County and between March and June of 2004 he worked on Crows Nest. I reached out to Mr. Walters via his website to find out his recollections of Crows Nest, but have not heard back. His website may be viewed here


Condit, W. &. H. (1855) Map of Marion County, Indiana. Cin. O.: Middelton, Wallace & Co., lithos. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Warner, A., Worley & Bracher & Bourquin, F. (1866) Map of Marion County, Indiana. Philadelphia: C.O. Titus, Publisher. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Genealogical Society of Marion County, Crows Nest Cemetery,, last accessed August 30, 2019.

Indianapolis News, October 14, 1959, Crow's Nest Settler Traced Back to 1830

Indianapolis News, March 8, 1979, The "Hand Me Down" Estates

Boyd, G. A. (2006). Family maps of Marion County, Indiana: with homesteads, roads, waterways, towns, cemeteries, railroads, and more. Norman, OK: Arphax Pub. Co.

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