It’s easy to stroll past Pioneer Cemetery, which stands unassumingly at College Street and East Sixth Avenue, as Bowling Green’s oldest public burial ground.
Many enslaved people and those who held them in bondage lie buried there, along with more than 100 soldiers from conflicts as far back as the Revolutionary War, according to an online history by the city of Bowling Green. By 1861, the burial ground had swelled to near capacity, becoming the resting place for those who died from railroad accidents, typhoid fever and other ailments and the outbreak of the Civil War.
But the cemetery was a place of life as well. It served as the original site of Bowling Green’s Presbyterian Church, which has long since relocated to State Street.
On Sunday, church congregants gathered at the cemetery to dedicate an official state historical marker, a development we were glad to see.
Passers-by will now no doubt be able to appreciate the fullness of the cemetery’s significance through a sign that offers a glimpse into its past.
The marker references the Rev. Joseph Lapsley, the Presbyterian Church’s founding patriarch, who established the church on the site in April 1819. Dying just four years later, Lapsley’s remains were interred at the spot where his pulpit once stood.
Lapsley’s church has lived many lives through the years, at different points in history hosting a school for girls and a Civil War hospital.
At the time of its founding, the church boasted just 28 members. On Sunday, several of their descendants gathered for a dedication ceremony while a portrait of Lapsley looked on, leaning against the stone cask that marks his gravesite.
We applaud one of the church’s congregants, Thomas Moody, for working to secure a marker in time to celebrate the church’s bicentennial this year.
“Since we were celebrating 200 years, it seemed right that this place be marked,” Moody said of the project, which was done with support from the Kentucky Historical Society. “I thought ‘Well, this is the original cemetery for Bowling Green and there’s no marker here, and a lot of people don’t know it exists.’ Preservation’s a good thing.”
We wholeheartedly agree.