LOOKING BACK: Carver left his mark on Van Buren’s cemeteries

Coming to this county and settling in Van Buren Township was a man named Henry Cross, born in Indiana but whose full origins are unknown.

He was born in 1821, probably in Jackson County. The great virgin country that was to become his home was a rough-hewn region of forests, hills and valleys.

These times were ones of hardship and unending labor. Settlers had to spend time clearing the land and then building small cabins constructed of logs, mud and stones.

Somehow, Henry developed a talent for stone carving, possibly from his father before him.

By 1845, Henry Cross met and married his wife, Mary Clark. Her home was not to be this crude cabin, so he built her a fine home. He and Mary’s parents, Absalom and Hannah Clark, who had moved in with them, accrued enough land to have one of the finest farms around.

Henry also was known as one of the finest craftsmen around. The stone from which he carved his tombstones was quarried from a creekbed not far below his homestead and dragged by sled to the cellar of his house where he did his carving.

His stone carving was so well known that his tombstones can be found in many Brown County cemeteries and also in others many miles outside the county.

In 1850, Henry Cross began work on three road markers for the county. Only one survived up until 2016, but it still has secured his mark in Indiana history. The Stone Head in Van Buren Township had been photographed more times than any other object in Brown County history before it went missing last fall. Be sure to check out the replica of Stone Head in the History Center.

After Henry and Mary were married, several children were born: Chester, in 1847, Ruah Anna in 1848; then, shortly before Christmas of 1849, infant twin sons were born. Sadly, they died after six days. Then came Elizabeth, Olive, Mary Frances and Julia Azubah.

You will find Henry and Mary’s twin sons buried in the Mellott Cemetery. To mark their graves, Henry Cross made twin gravestones, each consisting of five separate stones, climaxed in a tall pyramid. These two grave markers are the only ones he ever made; they were placed on huge stone footings. These two pyramidal headstones were beautiful and lovingly carved by their father.

The three years following the double loss were years in which Cross made his most notable sculptures in terms of design and craftsmanship.

He signed only two pieces of his works: The Stone Head that used to sit at the junction of State Road 135 South and Bellsville Pike and the grave marker that he carved for his beloved mother-in-law.

Henry Cross died Feb. 26, 1864, when he was felling a tree with William Ping, a Mr. Moore and a Mr. King. After his tragic death, Mary returned to Ohio to be near her family.

There are four cemeteries featured in a new driving tour booklet, now available for $5 at the Brown County History Center.

When you visit the cemeteries with Cross-carved headstones, you will appreciate his talent and the beauty of his work. Yes, Henry Cross was the first artist in Brown County. His work remains a tribute to him. Even though the Stone Head has been destroyed, his vision lives on forever strong.

The driving tour booklet has detailed maps of Van Buren Township with mileage and stories about each place featured. Mention you saw this story in the Brown County Democrat and receive a 10 percent discount on your driving tour booklet.

Watch for other driving tours through Brown County in the future.

— Pauline Hoover and Rhonda Dunn, Brown County Historical Society