What started out as a 16-year-old’s Eagle Scout project has become a significant historical breakthrough in Indiana’s past. Reece Thompson never imagined the time, labor or significance his restoration of the “Colored Cemetery” in Thorntown would have on the community or the descendants of those buried there.
He learned that many of the descendants of those buried in Thorntown continue to visit the site, sometimes on a monthly basis. This fact added a personal element to a project that required countless hours of research, funding obstacles, and permit and grant application.
“As I worked on the project, throughout the summer 2016 and 2017, there were always people stopping by and asking about it,” Thompson said. “Sometimes, I would spend more time talking than working. There was an interest there. The conversations I was able to have with people were really special.”
Thompson also noted that the cemetery is the last remains of the black community in Thorntown. There were thought to be only 28 graves in the once inconspicuously marked cemetery. However, a ground-penetrating radar study revealed 48 graves in total and most of those people had families, making those impacted even larger.
“When you think of 48 people that might not seem like that much, but when you think about 48 families that is a lot,” Thompson said. “They helped to build that community and establish a church. They had an impact on its future.”
Among his many discoveries, Thompson learned of at least one Civil War veteran who was buried in the cemetery. He also noted the countless hours needed to complete a project that went on to include a historical landmark.
Thompson’s efforts did not go unnoticed He received the coveted SerVaas Award from the Indiana Landmark Society in 2020, as well as the Outstanding Collaborative Project Award from the Indiana Historical Society.
For more information on the site, check out the the project web page link at http://eagleproject.homestead.com/
Timeline of ‘Colored Cemetery’ project in Thorntown
January 2016: Reece Thompson’s Eagle Scout Project begins.
August 2016: Thompson goes out into the cemetery and makes repairs to headstones.
April 2017: Thompson gets Operation Round Up funding, which allowed Ground Penetrating Radar study.
December 2017: Thompson organized “Colored Cemetery” Committee, & rallied volunteers to repair headstones.
Summer 2017: Thompson partnered with Ball State University on GPR study revealing additional sites.
March 2018: The Eagle Scout project is completed.
June 2018: Thompson secured fencing for cemetery through Historical Society grant.
Aug. 2018: Historical marker erected
Aug. 2019: Cemetery Ceremony for descendants held.
Those Buried There
- Abe Blair
- Andrew Blair
- Anna Blair
- Hazel Blair
- Mary Blair
- David Chandler
- Elisha Derrick (Civil War Veteran)
- Matilida Derrickson
- Clarence Drake
- Alic Mitchell
- Daniel Mitchell
- Susan Morris
- Mary Rogers
- Warren Rogers
- Thomas Rule
- James Shad
- James L. Shad
- John Shad
- Mary Sims
- Branson Smith
- Lindsay Smith
- Maud Smith
- Nancy Smith
- Preslay Smith
- George Tapp
- William White