The Greenwood Project: Preserving our cultural heritage

Greenwood Cemetery committee
As the oldest in Leavenworth, Greenwood Cemetery can be thought of as an outdoor museum.

The city of Leavenworth is a city of history, noted for its historic places and its historic residents. Much of that history has been written, but little is actually known about those who found their final resting place in local cemeteries. As a result, an integral aspect of the city’s history has gone unrecorded and forgotten. A notable example of this neglected history can be rediscovered in a relatively unknown but historic cemetery within the city limits of Leavenworth.

Greenwood Cemetery, on the western side of Leavenworth, is the oldest existing cemetery in the city and one of the oldest in the state. Of the 20 reported burial sites within the city limits, only four still exist as a cemetery: Greenwood Cemetery (established 1863), Mount Olivet (Sisters of Charity) Cemetery (established 1866), the Sully Family Cemetery (established 1882) and Leavenworth National Cemetery (established 1886).

As the oldest in Leavenworth, Greenwood Cemetery can be thought of as an outdoor museum, representing some of the earliest local history experienced by those buried here. Regrettably, a unique slice of Leavenworth history is in danger of being lost forever.

Prior to the Civil War, in the early days of territorial Kansas, the only public cemetery in Leavenworth was on Pilot Knob. Known as Mount Aurora Cemetery, it was situated on the highest elevation just west of Leavenworth. Over time it became overgrown and especially difficult to access, causing residents to consider establishing additional and more readily accessible burial sites.

The history of Greenwood Cemetery dates to the earliest days of the state and territory of Kansas. The land, part of which would become Greenwood, was originally deeded by the federal government to Adam Fisher, Lewellen Eckelberry and Alexander A. Higinbotham on Oct. 1, 1858. 

Adam and his brother, George, were among the first families to settle in Leavenworth. Eventually, George came to own 160 acres of this property and became a well-known fruit and berry grower of the county. Adam was well known in the building of the town.

In 1863, with the intention of setting aside land for a new cemetery, Mary Davis, wife of Dr. James Davis, purchased 12 acres of hilly farmland in the northwest corner of Delaware Township from George Fisher. The Davis couple began advertising lots for sale in October as an alternative to the burial lots on Pilot Knob.

Greenwood Cemetery was thus officially established on Dec. 4, 1863, with space for about 4,000 burials. Many of the early pioneer settlers comprised of soldiers, farmers, lawyers, doctors, preachers, factory workers, coal miners, merchants and freed slaves found their final resting place in Greenwood. The cemetery, however, eventually came to be used less often as other larger burial grounds were developed. Mount Muncie Cemetery was established in 1867 and Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in 1869. 

Mrs. Davis sold the Greenwood Cemetery grounds to George Fisher and Andrew Barnes in December 1866 with Barnes becoming the resident sexton. The ownership of the cemetery then remained in these families as the town gradually grew up around it. The city of Leavenworth was deeded the property in February 1982 and today, the city’s Park and Recreation Department oversees the general maintenance of the old cemetery.

Next week:  A resting place for Leavenworth’s historic citizens.