The Redford Cemetery as photographed in 2012 by a FindAGrave member

Redford Cemetery

Other names: Bell Branch Cemetery, Pioneer Cemetery 
Founded: 1831
Michigan State Historic Site: June 13, 1986  

In 1831 Israel Bell, a Pekin Village commissioner, gave one acre of land to the village for a cemetery. Originally called Bell Branch Cemetery, after the river and the settlement founded by Bell in 1818, its name was changed to Redford Cemetery after Pekin’s modern name; Redford Township. Additional acreage obtained in 1849, 1854 and 1883 expanded the cemetery to 10 acres of which half is in Redford Township and half is in Detroit. A wrought iron fence was built for the cemetery in 1886 with money contributed by Redford Township citizens. Among those buried here are Israel Bell and many war veterans, including two from the Revolutionary War (Ephraim Dains Sr. and Darius Smead), and many from the War of 1812, the Civil War and World War I.

In 1886 the iron fence and entrance gate was built for the cemetery at a cost of $1,500. Today that would be almost $41,000! The scroll work of the iron is what inspired the current logo for the Redford Township Historical Commission. In the 1980’s the gate was repaired for a cost of $4,900 (about $11,000 today). Over time the gate and fence had to be replaced all together. The old fence is said to have been donated to Henry Ford/Greenfield Village and as of 2019 the original entrance gate is stored at one of Redford Township’s public service buildings. The Historical Commission is trying to find a way to preserve and re-purpose the beautiful arch. 

According to Charlotte (Prindle) Binns, past president of the Descendants of Redford Pioneers, when Detroit annexed part of Redford Township in 1926, the Redford Cemetery Association petitioned both respective governments for control over the cemetery. They received a deed in 1933 from Redford Township for their portion of the cemetery land, and in 1934 a lease from the City of Detroit for the remaining 7 acres. The lease is supposed to last “forever.” (Charlotte passed away in 2000 at the age of 94. She is buried in the Redford Cemetery) 

In 1939, Clarence and Marjoria Beavis made a list of every burial at the Redford Cemetery. Marjoria was the granddaughter of Redford’s 5th settler, George Norris, who arrived in 1828.  The lists recorded by the Beavises were eventually compiled into a book (thanks to the help of the Redford Cemetery Association, Detroit Society of Genealogical Research, Saratoga Chapter: New York Daughters of the American Revolution) that is available for purchase through the Redford Historical Commission or the Redford Cemetery Association. 

cemetery norris
1978 Redford Observer Photo of George Norris’ Tombstone

According to Lois Carpenter, a past Redford Historical Commission member, “If you’re interested in very early Redford History, walk through the cemetery, read the names – Bell, Blue, Green, Hendry, Lyon, Perrin, Pierce, Prindle, Smith, Wilmarth – and you’ve got the beginning.” In 1883, Judge Alexander Blue’s widow and sons spent $3,000 on a monument for his burial site at the Redford Cemetery (that would be about $76k today!!) 

Fun fact: the 1850’s home of Alexander Blue was moved to Livonia’s Greenmead Historical Village in 1987 where it has since been restored and opened to the public in 2003.

The State Historic Marker for the Redford Cemetery was finally achieved in 1986 after years of research and documentation by the Redford Cemetery Association, including Helen E. Gallagher, Olive Hopp Swanson, Lois S. Harrison, John M. Prindle,  and many others. Gallagher stated in a 1992 Redford Observer article that five generations of her family are buried in the Redford Cemetery. 

Gallagher’s mother, Olive Hopp Swanson, is credited with the idea of pursuing a Historical Marker for the Cemetery. Unfortunately, she passed away before she could see that dream realized. Swanson is buried in the cemetery along with Gallagher’s grandfathers, David Chavey and Henry Hopp I. The funds for the Historic Marker were donated in Swanson’s memory. The official ceremony and dedication of the marker took place in 1989 and was attended by over fifty people, including a former Michigan Governor and President of the Michigan Historical Commission, John B. Swainson. 

A beautiful memorial of Mrs. Swanson’s headstone, photo taken in 2012

Many of the burials of Redford’s pioneer families belong to farmers, most of whom never made it to the age of 50. During the days of the pioneers, Europeans came to the area to purchase cheap farmland. This explains the diverse genealogy of Redford’s ancestors, which includes: French, German, Polish, Irish, English, and Swedish, along with many others.   

Photo taken in 2013, “Redford’s First Teacher”

Since 1933, the historical 3-acre parcel (Redford’s portion) of Redford Cemetery is maintained by the nonprofit Redford Cemetery Association. Today, there are about 2,000 graves in the cemetery and only the decedents of Redford’s pioneer families are able to be buried there. According to a member of the Redford Cemetery Association, some of the older tombstones have been purposely buried or covered in order to protect and preserve them. Over the years the cemetery has been host to multiple counts of vandalism, but perseveres through the continuous hard work and dedication of the Redford Cemetery Association and volunteers who help clean and maintain it. 

Photo courtesy of the Redford Observer, 1965

In 1999, one of the tombstones even went missing for approximately a week, ending up in someone’s front yard in Waterford. Ironically, the yard had been decorated with fake tombstones for Halloween, so the owner didn’t even realize right away that a thief had added a real tombstone in with the decorations. The stolen tombstone belonged to a 9-year-old boy by the name of Frankie Bryant, who was buried in the Redford Cemetery during the 1880’s. Thanks to the records compiled by the Beavises, the name on the tombstone was easily found under the Redford Cemetery list of burials. Once the tombstone was identified, it was then returned to its rightful place back at the Cemetery. 

The once stolen tombstone photographed in its proper place in 2012

In 2010, the Redford Cemetery received a notable mention as one of the 60 cemeteries featured in Boneyards: Detroit Underground by the Detroit writer, Richard Bak. The book is available for purchase through places like Amazon for $34 or you can come take a peek at it yourself by visiting the Redford Historical Museum!  

Since the 1980’s numerous community groups and organizations, including the Redford Cemetery Association, Redford Baptist Church, Friends of the Rouge, Redford Jaycees, and Redford Historical Commission have hosted annual and biannual “clean-ups” to help maintain the cemetery by collecting garbage, pulling invasive weeds, and hedging tomb stones.

(1983 “Project Ginny” The Redford Observer)

In 2016, the Redford Historical Commission partnered with the Redford Cemetery Association to host the first cemetery walk and movie-in-the-cemetery night. Ever since then, it has become a yearly tradition for the Historical Commission to emcee the “Movie in a Cemetery” as, not only a way to spread awareness about the Historical cemetery and it’s preservation, but to also fundraise for its upkeep. Over the years, movies that have been shown include: Night of the Living Dead, Beetlejuice, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

As of 2019, of the almost 2,000 graves that are located within the Redford Cemetery, over 1,800 have been documented and 88% percent photographed by volunteer genealogists on the website FindAGrave.

2012 photo courtesy of Eloise Asylum.