Tour highlights fascinating cemetery history

Published 7:19 am Tuesday, November 9, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Local history buffs got an unusual lesson Saturday when they took part in a tour of Silverbrook Cemetery, guided by the Fort St Joseph Museum director, Carol Bainbridge.
The tour was part of the Niles District Library Local History and Genealogy event. The event featured various speakers detailing the history of Niles.
There are conductors of the underground railroad, local artists and authors, veterans, and some of Niles' founding families buried in the cemetery, to name a few.
The only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient buried in the cemetery, Joseph Albert Nolan, fought in the Spanish-American War in 1900.
He rescued his unit in the Philippines by walking through 22 miles of forest to get help after they were attacked by insurgent forces, Bainbridge said.
The Finley family, which holds three acres of plots along 11th Street, played a significant role in the Underground Railroad. In 1850, Pasquel LaRue Finley moved his family to Niles.
Pasquel, a white Frenchman married a half-black woman, Sarah, and had nine children.
While living as a farmer in Ohio, he also helped free slaves through the Underground Railroad. When his actions were discovered, he fled to Michigan with his family and bought 43 acres in Niles.
The Tyler family, which founded Tyler Refrigeration Corp. in 1927, has a vault in the cemetery. Jerry Tyler, his wife Mary, and son, Michael are all buried in the vault. Other family members are buried in plots surrounding the vault.
The Dodge Motor Co. has its roots in Niles. Maria Casto Dodge and Daniel Rugg Dodge, the parents of John and Horace Dodge, the brothers who moved to Detroit and founded the company still in operation today, are buried in the Dodge-Casto family plot.
A supplement of sorts to the cemetery tour was presented later in the day by Clyde Chamberlin.
Chamberlin made a presentation on the hundreds of unusual gravestones he and his wife, Norma, have found in their travels to hundreds of graveyards in search of unusual gravestones, epitaphs, or simply unusual stories about the stones.
Other discussions held during the all day library event included a in-depth look at the historical importance of Niles, both at the local and national level.
Todd Wakevainen, a lifelong resident of Niles, presented interesting facts about the history of Niles. Highlights included Niles' role of being gateway to Michigan, the role Fort St. Joseph played in the fur trade, and the role Niles played in the westward movement of the populace.
Wakevainen also touched on the importance of the city's place on the St. Joseph River, which has attracted my worldwide corporations to the area.
Lisa Croteau, director of the Downtown Development Authority, made a presentation on the changing face of downtown Niles.
The events keynote speaker, Curt Witcher, manager of the Historical Genealogy Department at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., spoke about the trials and tribulations of immigrants as they venture to the United States.
Witcher's presentation, "Departure, Arrival, and Settlement: Strategies for Passenger and Immigration Research," offered budding researchers a tutorial in tracking ancestor's travels to America.
Participants viewed samples of documents commonly found during the research process and learned how to access immigration-related records and information.