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Quiet Castle Rock cemetery marks a milestone this year

The Civil War-era soldier that watches over the Castle Rock Valley Cemetery was erected 100 years ago. The cemetery celebrated its 150th anniversary during the Memorial Day weekend.

The Castle Rock Valley Cemetery lies nestled away on a hill, surrounded by a grove of trees which, in turn, is surrounded by acres and acres of fields. It's a quiet place, where people go to mourn, or to celebrate a life. To cherish memories, and to simply spend time visiting the graves of loved ones.

Cemeteries don't typically draw a lot of attention, but Castle Rock's is special. Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Castle Rock Valley Cemetery observed its 150th anniversary.

According to a history written by longtime Castle Rock historian Marlys Guildner -- now buried at the Castle Rock Valley Cemetery herself -- the township first met to discuss a cemetery back in April of 1863. A committee was formed to find a site for a public cemetery.

The committee met on June 9 of that year and recommended purchase of a northeast quarter of Section 21, owned by S. G. Stevens. They purchased the land for $5 per acre.

"I think it's very serene, it's very peaceful," said current Castle Rock Valley Cemetery board president Roger Randall. "You can go up on the hill, overlook the entire area. When you get way up on top of the full hill, you can see all directions, and you can look down over the cemetery."

Prior to the establishment of the cemetery, the area's dead were buried on the homesteads and family farms of the deceased, according to Guildner's history. Once the Castle Rock Valley Cemetery was established, many families removed and re-interred the bodies in the then-new cemetery.

A central focus of the cemetery is the statue of a Civil War-era soldier. It was dedicated 100 years ago, on May 30, 1913, during a Memorial Day ceremony.

The monument was built to honor the community's deceased war veterans. It was constructed for a cost of $500.

"The unveiling of the monument was rendered by two little girls. Grand-daughters of veteran soldiers, Gladys Rowell and Myra Stevens. This seemed to make the occasion more impressive," said the Dakota County Tribune in its June 6, 1913 story about the monument.

But there was more to that story, said Guildner's daughter, Barbara Lang. Gladys Rowell became Guildner's mother, and Myra Stevens, her aunt. Family lore has it that the sheet covering the statue actually got caught and caused a stir during the ceremony, Lang said.

As of this year, there are 55 veterans buried in the Castle Rock Valley Cemetery -- one from the War of 1812, 22 from the Civil War, six from World War I, 11 from World War II, four from the Korean Conflict, three Vietnam veterans and eight other veterans.

An anniversary

Those veterans, and the wars they served in, were recognized during the sesquicentennial ceremony during Memorial Day weekend. Crosses were erected to denote each of the wars American soldiers have been involved in, and bouquets were placed at each during the ceremony.

A new set of benches constructed around the monument were dedicated at this year's ceremony, as well. The benches were part of an Eagle Scout project by Hunter Ehlers, who comes from a long line of sextons for the cemetery.

"There's a lot of family history out there," Randall said. "There's one family, I don't remember the name, but there were five members of the family who died between March and September. That was in the early 1880s. When you read all those names on one tombstone, it's kind of like, wow, there's a lot of connections here. All off a sudden, within four or five families, you have almost half of the cemetery involved."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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