Utica Cemetery walk to round out bicentennial festival

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published June 20, 2017

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UTICA — Utica’s bicentennial celebration is right around the corner June 22-25. The 200th birthday bash will be chock full of fun family events, as well as historical presentations, artifacts and tours.

The concluding event will be a guided tour of the historic Utica Cemetery at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 25. Organizers estimate that the tour will last approximately two hours.

Chuck Cuddington, the cemetery superintendent and a Utica city councilman, said organizers selected about 24 different original or important settlers to discuss. Participants will be able to see their graves and headstones.

Patricia Hallman, of the Utica Historical Society, said tours will include stories about early pioneers like Nathaniel Squier, a Revolutionary War veteran and first settler in 1817, and Joseph Stead, who platted the area as the village of Harlow in 1829. Also included are Gurdon Leech, a local businessman who suggested that the town’s name be changed to Utica, and Lyman Jenny, the first practicing physician in Macomb County, she said.

Also buried in the cemetery are more than 40 Civil War veterans, including William Brownell and Alexander Grant; and William Upton, a businessman whose home still stands in Sterling Heights and is listed on the state and national registers of historic places, Hallman said.

The tours will be led by JoAnn Burgess, and Cuddington will dress for the part.

“I let my beard grow out, and I’ll wear a straw hat with coveralls to look more like that era,” he said. “I don’t know if they had coveralls yet. They probably had all homemade clothes. They had to make everything. In 1817, there was no electricity, no radio, no TV. They went to bed when it got dark and got up when it was daylight.”

To dig a grave back then, Cuddington said, a family could hire a man and pay him a dollar, but most families could not afford it.

“Back then, there were all dirt roads and probably only one of them led to the cemetery. It was very sparse — a house here, a house there.” he said. “There are still a couple thousand (available) graves left, and we now have a columbarium.”

The tour is free and all are welcome. Organizers request that participants park across the street at the American Legion Hall. The walk will start at the south end of the cemetery near the state historic marker. The Utica Cemetery is located at 46325 Shelby Road, on the west side of Shelby Road, south of 21 Mile Road.

The four-day bicentennial event will kick off with opening ceremonies — including a historical highlight video presentation, a performance by the Utica High School marching band, and old-fashioned and regular-season baseball games — at Jimmy John’s Field on Thursday, June 22.

The rest of the festival will include live entertainment, a carnival and food court, a petting zoo, face painting and other kids activities, local vendors, a beer tent, kayak and canoe rides, fireworks, and more. The Utica Public Library will showcase artifacts from the city’s past and play a longer historical highlight video in its Gibbing room.

“We encourage people to come out and party with us to celebrate 200 years, “said co-chair Linda Davis-Kirksey in a prior interview. “There’s something for everybody.”

During the festival, Davis-Kirksey said, Auburn Road will be closed from Van Dyke Avenue to just before Jimmy John’s Field, so baseball fans can still attend games and park in the adjacent public lot, and Cass Avenue will be closed from Summers Street to M-59.

For more information about the bicentennial celebration or the historic cemetery tour, call Utica City Hall at (586) 739-1600 or visit www.utica-events.com.

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