Doug Shorey has taken care of his family’s private graveyard on Bennoch Road for the past 15 years. It was his great-grandfather who originally built the Maple Grove Cemetery in the early 1950s. Ever since then, it has been maintained by someone in their family.
The graveyard was passed down from one generation to the next until Shorey became its newest caretaker, and as he got older, Shorey hoped to one day pass the legacy on to his descendants, too.
But there were no volunteers. So a couple of years ago, he went before the city of Old Town and asked if it wanted to take over the cemetery.
The only problem is his family doesn’t own it.
Shorey was raised in Pea Cove — a small neighborhood community nestled in between the Bennoch and Southgate Roads not far from the Old Town-Alton line. Shorey’s relatives, the Briggs family, were woodsmen, he said, who once owned more than 100 acres and a farm in the neighborhood.
Over the years, the Briggs’ property shrank as pieces of land were traded and sold.
“Pieces of the farm got broken up and sold off and houses built, and that cemetery that they all assumed was with the original parcel wasn’t,” said Town Manager Bill Mayo.
Somehow during this time, the family had lost ownership of their own cemetery. “Everyone assumed that it had gone with the family and it hadn’t.”
The property bounced from one relative to the next over the course of several decades and keeping up with every property transfer in the family proved difficult for Shorey.
“Honest to God, I didn’t know who the deed belonged to,” he said.
When the city of Old Town did a title search on the property this year, they discovered that the cemetery had been transferred to another resident of Bennoch Road who lived just a few houses down from Shorey.
Digging through local property records, the town confirmed that Shorey’s great-grandfather, William H. Briggs had originally purchased land that appeared to be the cemetery parcel in 1944.
When Briggs died in 1957, the cemetery and the rest of the family’s land was transferred to his wife, Amanda, who died in 1973 and gave the property off to her son, Harold.
According to property records, Harold Briggs held onto the land until 1992 when he died and the property was placed in another relative’s trust.
Still, no documents could prove that Shorey was the current owner of the cemetery, when city officials searched the property records history. Shorey had maintained it for more than a decade and before that, had watched his father and other relatives care for it. He heard stories about his great-grandfather who started it all, but there was nothing that proved his family still owned the land.
A different name came up instead: Tim Taylor.
When Taylor bought his house on Bennoch Road around seven or eight years ago, there was nothing in the paperwork about a graveyard, he said. He hadn’t even known about it until one afternoon when Shorey appeared at his front door last year, telling him that he was the rightful owner of the Maple Grove Cemetery.
“It’s very strange,” Taylor said. Now, the city is working to officially purchase the graveyard from Taylor. While Shorey is free of the legal ownership, he’s still going to help the town transition into maintaining the land.
What happens to the cemetery matters, Shorey said, and caring for it is an act of love. It’s where his parents, grandparents, dozens of relatives and even some war veterans are buried. There’s a history at the cemetery and important stories of the lives of those who are buried there, he explained.
“Someday I’m gonna pass away and be buried there, too,” he said. “I didn’t want to just walk away from it.”