HARDIN — Any official status to the community of Hardin was short-lived. The settlement served as the first county seat of Shelby County in the years 1819 and 1820. But today the hamlet is not an incorporated entity. There is no form of government in Hardin, and now even the Hardin school building is gone. Only the Methodist Church remains as an institution there.
However, on the southern outskirts of Hardin on Hardin-Wapakoneta Road there is a timeless place: a cemetery sits alongside a small creek. And next to the creek resides cemetery historian Bob Wise and his wife Helen. Bob is the former caretaker of the cemetery, and still maintains a high level of interest in it.
Brookside Cemetery is picturesque and at times appears almost ancient. It is in reality also a modern well kept place of rest, but one where the graves date back to 1839. It is cared for by workers under the direction of the Turtle Creek Township Trustees.
The origin of the cemetery dates back to the year 1812. That is when a man named John Kennard purchased land from the United States government through two deeds signed by President James Madison.
In 1853, a family by the last name of Betts purchased the land from Kennard, who then sold the property four years later to Robert and Harriet Ewing. It was from them that 1.5 acres of ground was sold to the Turtle Creek Presbyterian Church, and the congregation built a church on the site.
The small cemetery adjacent to the church proved to not offer enough space for anticipated needs. In 1893 the church purchased some adjacent ground, and then in 1895 burial plots in the new cemetery were offered up for public sale.
It should be noted there are many tombstones with burial dates prior to 1865, indicating that some of the ground was used as a family cemetery before the church was formed.
As of 2019, it is believed that around 550 people are buried in Brookside Cemetery. There are still burial lots available.
The Presbyterian Church located alongside the cemetery served as a key venue for social events in the early 1900s when membership ranged between seventy and ninety people. But in 1925 a violent windstorm damage the church so badly that a decision was made to tear down the building.
A replacement church was constructed in the center of Hardin. Through the course of time, that church building was converted into a hardware store, which had to be rebuilt after a fire in the 1950s. That is where today a vehicle dealership named Purpose Driven Motors operates.
In 1928 the cemetery was purchased by Turtle Creek Township for a price of $1, and was named Brookside Cemetery. An iron fence with a large gate was constructed. At that time the cemetery was looked after by Harve Hanselman, nicknamed the “Mayor of Hardin” due to his active participation in many Hardin events.
During the time that Hanselman served as caretaker of Brookside, he would see to it that the gates were open during daylight hours, and then locked at night. Those gates were removed and sold for scrap sometime in the late 1970s.
In his studies of the cemetery’s history, Bob Wise has gone to great lengths to see to it that important information has been preserved for future reference. Not only has he meticulously mapped out burials in Brookside, he has also made special note of information regarding many of those interred there.
People at eternal rest in Brookside include many who made notable contributions to the local area. There are also a number of Civil War veterans buried there.
Hamilton Bell was buried in Brookside in 1886. He was a newspaper printer who worked for the Sidney Journal in 1849, and then moved to Cincinnati and work for thirty-four years as a compositor for the Cincinnati Inquirer.
One of the Civil War veterans who had a notable impact on Hardin was Joseph Bowen, who died in 1926. He served as a clerk in a general store in Clermont County, Ohio until enlisting in the Army.
Bowen moved to Shelby County after the war, and became a business partner with Isaac Betts. They operated a general store and a grain business, and Bowen later went on to operate stores in Lockington and Hardin.
Bowen’s daughter Maude became a schoolteacher and a nurse. She was buried in Brookside in 1965.
Son William was buried there in 1955. He had become a successful farmer and served on local township and school boards. He was a member of the Hardin Compromise Grange and Hardin Methodist Church. After retiring from farming he traveled to Alaska and Panama.
And another person of notable service was William Douglas, who died in 1910. He was an outstanding marksman, who won two state medals for sharp shooting. A military funeral procession moved his body from his home south of Hardin in the community of New Bern to his burial at Brookside.
Virginia Elsner served in the United States Marine Corps for two years and obtained a degree in bacteriology in 1952. She went on to work for the Ohio Department of Food and Drugs, and also served as a bacteriologist at Fort Derrick.
Another person buried at Brookside who sacrificed much for his country was Wilson Cowan, who died in 1874. He was a medical doctor in Hardin who also served for a while as a postmaster at Hardin Station, near where Hardin Road intersects with Smalley Road. He also was a member of the Ohio General Assembly.
Cowan served as a surgeon in the Civil War. He is believed to have been poisoned on the way home from his Civil War service by a Confederate sympathizer. From that point on, even when he returned to his medical practice in Hardin, he suffered from the aftereffects. He lived in a brick house across from Brookside Cemetery, and was likely the person who had it built.
Another very accomplished person buried at Brookside is William Gray, who passed away in 2004. He was a mechanical engineer who studied at Purdue University and went on to serve in the Army before going to work at Monarch Machine Tool.
After going to Northeastern University for a graduate degree, he worked for General Electric and developed filters used in the Apollo Command Modules. He also took part in development of components of the life support packs worn by astronauts on the moon while he worked at Owens Corning Fiberglass.
In his retirement, he and his wife enjoyed ocean cruising and circled the earth three times. He was a man of many skills, including auto body repair, plumbing and electricity, cabinetmaking and sport fishing.
Another person of exemplary service to others was Dorothy Schmidt, who was buried at Brookside in the year 2000. After graduating from Good Samaritan School of Nursing, she went to an Indian reservation in Arizona. There she treated the ill, and delivered babies and did emergency surgery during times when no doctor was available.
Bob Wise has made note of causes of death whenever possible. He notes that Robert Briggs was buried at Brookside in 1908. His demise is of some note due to its accidental nature. He was building a fence on the James Watson farm when a chain broke and sliced his abdomen. He died from his injuries the next day at his home in Hardin.
Another somewhat unusual death was that of Gurley Price, whose life ended in 1900. At the age of just 24, he went home with a sore throat after spending the day with his brother Charles, who was teaching him to be a barber. Price developed head pains and died before the doctor arrived.
One interesting note is that the oldest person to be buried at Brookside is Julia Etzwiler, who passed away at the age of 102 years.
The scenic cemetery typically now has one or two burials each year. Those who rest there span the ages from when Hardin had just emerged from its status as part of the frontier to involvement with the lunar landings.
Bob and Helen Wise contributed to the article.