Pinora Township Trustee Sidney Woods never expected researching his family history would lead to finding and rededicating a cemetery that had been lost in time. His interest in local history came from wanting to know more about his own family’s past in Lake County, Michigan. What he discovered set him on an adventure into the past, and brought a community together to restore what was lost over a hundred years ago.
In 1872, The Gould family buried their infant daughter, Priscilla, on a hill near State Road in Pinora Township, once the main road from Grand Rapids to Traverse City. Over time, other family members and locals were buried in the same location, and Gould donated the three-acre family plot to the township to be used as a cemetery. Over the next 8 years, 16 people were buried there.
The land changed hands from 1880 to 1903. After the property was timbered, the state took ownership for back taxes. The deed of sale however never showed there was a three acre cemetery plot on the property, and it was forgotten until 2011. Sidney Woods got the township board involved, and with Wood’s research they went to the state to inquire about the cemetery.
The state planned to have the land timbered again, and a power company had erected large metal electrical towers right through the plot where it was believed the cemetery was located. ORV trails also criss-crossed through the area, and one well-used trail went right over where the township believed there were people buried. Local surveyors were brought in with ground-penetrating radar, and the graves were found. Historian Shanna Avery went to work looking through records to figure out who exactly was buried in the cemetery. She narrowed it down to sixteen names – ten of European ancestry and six Native Americans. The state of Michigan demanded proof that a cemetery was on the land, and the township proved it.
By 2015, the state and township had worked out a plan for protecting the newly discovered cemetery. The state would keep ownership of the land, but the township would have a grave marker at the location. Guardrails were installed to keep ORV traffic out of the cemetery, as years of trail riding had eroded the hill. It’s fortunate none of the graves were disturbed over time.
On August 19, 2016, people gathered to rededicate the little cemetery in Pinora Township. Residents, descendants of the Gould family, and Native Americans from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians all took part. Sidney Woods, Vicki Dennett and Shanna Avery all spoke about their work to find the cemetery. Dru Johnson offered a prayer in blessing, and a Pipe Ceremony was performed by Ron Wittenberg to offer up prayers as well.
Records, newspaper clippings, and the radar images of the graves can be seen at the Pinora Township Hall. Through cooperation with the township, the state, and the people involved, Gould Cemetery will not be forgotten again.