Eagle Scout tackles neglected Higbee Cemetery

Published 7:03 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- With veterans from the Civil War and the War of 1812 buried in Niles Township's Higbee Cemetery, David Fish, Jr. thought the long-neglected cemetery deserved some respect.
For an Eagle Scout project, the recent graduate of St. Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., decided to undertake the overwhelming task of making this overgrown property more accessible to the community.
Prior to the project, the cemetery, which is located at the end of Higgins Street, off of Third Street, was completely covered with brush and totally inaccessible to the public. It would have been nearly impossible to even tell that there was a cemetery on this abandoned property.
To become an Eagle Scout, each scout must complete a large service project that benefits the community in some way.
Fish, Jr.'s original plan for a community service project was to construct a bridge over Brandywine Creek. He went to a Niles Township Board of Trustees meeting to seek the township's approval, when he heard an even better idea.
Higgins Street resident Roger Tibbs was present at the meeting and brought up concerns about the clean-up of the historic cemetery.
Fish, Jr. saw a need for the community and thought this would be a perfect project to help him become an Eagle Scout.
With the help of scouts, neighbors, the township, local Vietnam and Korean War veterans and other community members, Fish, Jr. led a massive effort to bring the property back to a respectable condition.
Using tools like chainsaws, weed wackers and rakes, the project, which began in early June, covered almost two acres and took more than 70 hours of work.
There is now an accessible path and the old gravesites are uncovered and completely visible. American Flags were placed at the sites of the three war veterans found in the cemetery, which include Civil War veterans Henry Randall and John Eckler and War of 1812 veteran Burton Prettyman.
The total amount of gravesites at Higbee Cemetery is unknown, but the last burial was believed to be in 1924.
Fish Jr., who began as a cub scout with St. Mary's Troop 579 in third grade, hopes this project will bring some recognition to the relatively unknown cemetery.
Though the township will now be mainly responsible for its general upkeep, Fish Sr. expects other organizations to get involved.
He said the project has picked up momentum as the awareness of the property grows.
Fish, Jr. has contacted the Sons of American Legion to inform them of the project.
The organization expressed an interest in getting American Flags out to the gravesites each Memorial Day.
They also hope the project will create an interest in getting similar areas cleaned up for future Eagle Scout projects.