Project aims to restore gravestones at southern Indiana cemetery

Tim Allen brushes dirt and sediment from the face of a headstone after pausing to read the marker's history at the Freedomland Cemetery in New Albany, Ind. (News and Tribune Photo/Tyler Stewart)

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (News and Tribune) — The Freedomland Cemetery, tucked away in the hills off of Paoli Pike, is easy to miss. Every day, drivers rush past the sign on the side of the curvy road without knowing what's located beyond.

But when you wander down the trail behind the sign, the historic African American cemetery eventually comes into view. Gravestones are scattered throughout the wooded area.

Some stones are engraved with names and epitaphs, but most are unmarked. Many of the markers have become buried by soil and debris over time.

On Saturday, community members will gather at Freedomland Cemetery to uncover and restore its gravestones. Matthew Kasteler, 16, organized the event for his Eagle Scout project.

"I thought it would be really nice to get people to know about it, because it's been abandoned and unnoticed," he said.

Freedomland, formerly known as the "Colored People's Burial Grounds" or the "Colored People's Graveyard," was created in 1854 and abandoned in the early 20th century. It is one of the oldest black cemeteries in Indiana.

Matthew and his father, Scott Kasteler, were inspired to become involved with the cemetery's restoration after hearing of the work done by Tim Allen, a New Albany resident who has voluntarily maintained the cemetery for the past six years. They met with him and decided to help him with his work.

Matthew had previously seen the Freedomland sign while passing through Paoli Pike, but for years, he didn't know what it meant or what was there. Now, he wants the community to understand the history that has remained unknown to so many.

By restoring the gravestones, they aim to honor those laid to rest in Freedomland, Scott said.

"I think by restoring it, it creates a higher level of respect and reverence for what it meant, whether it was the struggles of the African Americans at the time, or just the fact that there are actually people that lived and are buried there," he said. "That makes it a special place."

Get more on this story from our partners at the News and Tribune in Clark County.

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