Wilson Family Cemetery Project

Restoring the old family cemetery in Dakota, MN

Patrick Wilson, a great grandson of James Gardner Wilson, who lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, began a project in 2004 to restore the family cemetery in Dakota, Minnesota.  James Gardner Wilson was one of the original settlers in Dakota and Winona County, arriving with his wife Sarah Brown Wilson from Clinton County, New York, in 1852.

The family cemetery, located near an overpass of today's Interstate Highway 90, has long been in neglect and sometimes, during the summer months, it is so overgrown that it is difficult to even locate.  In addition, vandalism and the elements have taken a toll on the condition of the headstone markers located in this cemetery.

Pat has taken up the task of restoring this beautiful, but neglected, cemetery and has made much progress.  On this page you will find pictures of the cemetery, the listing of the grave markers found in the cemetery, Pat's commentary regarding his efforts, and an 1867 plat map showing the location of James Gardner Wilson's property.

Cemetery Pictures
(Click on the small thumbnail to see an enlarged picture and comments)

 This is the page


You can see new precast foundations under the Sibyl G. Wilson stone on the left, the Young stone on the far right, and the James G. and Sarah Wilson monument in the center.

The monument at the right end of the Wilson row is the E. L. Wilson monument, which was found in the gully behind and is now set up once more.

Listing of Grave Markers

Gravestones at Wilson Cemetery at New Hartford, MN.  This cemetery is overgrown and these recordings were taken by Larry  Wilson in 1971 (with the exception of the E. L. Wilson headstone which was found by Patrick Wilson in a gully behind the cemetery in the fall of 2004 and some corrections were made by him on December 11, 2004). Subsequent damage to some of these headstones may make it difficult to find or read them. 


   1. Baby Wilson

   2. Baby Boy Wilson
       Son of G & E Wilson
       B & D 9-29-1898

   3. Floyd E. Wilson
       Son of George and Edna Wilson
       B 3-15-1895
       D 6-16-1897

   4. Edward L. Wilson                              James E. Wilson
        Died October 9, 1858                       Died August 23, 1855
        Age 1 yr  4 mo. 2 days                      Age 1 year 8 months 12 days
                      Children of J.G. and S. Wilson

   5. Sibyl Wilson
       B. August 9, 1886
       D. July 19, 1887

   6. J.G. Wilson
       B. 2-13-1832
       D. 6-6, 1908

   7. Sarah Wilson
       Born 6-20-1833
       Died 4-12-1902

   8. E.  L. Wilson
       born May 21, 1810
       died June 8, 1898, at rest

   9. Hannah Wilson?
       Broken tablet next to E. L. Wilson stone
       Only inscription reads 9 months, 18 days
           This information is consistent with her death record which indicates she died
           in New Hartford Township on May 24, 1882, aged 74 years, 7 months, 18 days.
           (The number 9 is on a crack and it may actually be a 7).


   1. Anna Donaldson
        D 7-13-25
  1. A. C. Donaldson


   1. Barney Young
       B 10-9-1832
       D 3-6-04
       Co. D, 146th Ill. Inf

   2. Bridget Young

   3. Maggie
       Daughter of B. & B. Young
       Died June 25, 1888
       Aged 13 years, 9 months, & 4 days


   1. Father
       Oliver W.

   2. Mother
       Alice M.
       Note: She was Alice Mary Wilson, daughter of James and Sarah Wilson

   3. Mabel

   4. George Tibbets
        D. Mar 25 1855 aged 56 years 6 months 23 days

   5. Jeremiah W. Tibbetts

   6. Catherine I. Tibbetts

   7. A Grave marked G.T.



October 29, 2006

E-mail from Pat. "The Wilson cemetery has been looking much better this year. I found out who's been working on the cemetery, through an acquaintance at work who lives near the cemetery. ******, a gentleman who lives in Dakota, has adopted the cemetery maintenance as a retirement project, though he doesn't have any relatives buried there. I talked to ****** on the phone today. He said he's been mowing it and cutting brush and he even took a stump out. He used round-up to kill the weeds he says, and is planning to plant grass there next spring. It's good someone local to the cemetery with some time to spend has taken on the task. I mentioned to ***** that there have been groups of people there in the past working on the cemetery, and he said that the local 4-H club did some cleanup outings there through the years, but hasn't been real active there lately."

September 20, 2006

E-mail from Pat. "I visited the cemetery in mid July .... The cemetery was very well kept. There has always been someone who comes to take care of the cemetery, whom I hope to meet there some time. Since I got the stones re-set, it looks like the person or people were inspired to really fix it up nice. The brush and saplings were all cleared out, and the vegetation was cut down so it was easy to get around. I should have had a camera to take a picture."

October 3, 2005

E-mail from Pat.  "I talked to the attorney in Winona about the possibility of the county taking over Wilson Cemetery maintenance. He said he's gone through this type of thing with two other cemeteries in the county, which is helpful. He said that in the case of one abandoned cemetery he took to the county board, they turned over the maintenance to a Boy Scout Troop, which they can according to the law. In any case, he said the county wouldn't take over the cemetery maintenance without proof it was abandoned and without a clear definition of what it's boundaries are, which entails making an abstract and having a survey done. He suggested I call  the owner of the land for sale around the cemetery, so I can meet with him to agree on the cemetery boundaries and how to pay for a survey. He felt ***** should pay half the cost of a survey, since he needs to define the cemetery to get the legal definition of his land correct."

September 20, 2005

Larry Wilson e-mailed Pat with information regarding Minnesota statute 306.243, Maintaining Abandoned Cemeteries.  Chapter 307 also mentions the requirement to have the cemetery surveyed and platted, but that chapter seems to refer to active cemeteries.  The e-mail also offered some suggestions as to ongoing maintenance: 1) form an association, 2) petition the county to take over the maintenance, 3) petition the town of New Hartford to take over the maintenance.  Larry also suggested that we might want to contact the Minnesota Historical Society to see if they had any suggestions.

September 16, 2005

Pat e-mailed with a status update indicating the property has been listed for sale.

"I want to let you know the Wilson Cemetery investigation status. I hired an attorney in Winona ... to look into it, and he's gotten quite interested."

Pat then provides a history of real estate transactions dating from June of 1961 through August of 2004.  The property has been listed for sale by the current owner in September of 2005.  Each prior real estate transaction stated "excepting the cemetery".

The attorney has a advised that the title of the cemetery can possibly be taken through a "quiet title" process, but it would have to be surveyed.  The cost of the survey plus attorney fees could amount to several thousand dollars.

There is also the issue of ownership once the process is completed.  The questions are who would want it and how would it be maintained?

May 20, 2005

Pat e-mailed and said he got a call from the purported owner of the property.

"He's going to try to sell the Wilson Cemetery area property to raise some money. ... He still doesn't know if he owns the cemetery, and I certainly don't know. He said he'd mail me the legal description of the property, but I haven't received it yet. I'll probably hire an attorney to try to sort out who does own the cemetery. So there's a possible opportunity here."

March 26, 2005

"I think I found the owner of the Wilson cemetery, but he's not even sure.

He said he bought a couple acres of land there, with the intent to have a place to put a mobile home so he'd have a place to stay near the river. He thinks the cemetery is probably on the land, but is not sure. He doesn't know how much of the land is left with the cemetery and freeway there. He bought the land from the guy who owns the house just east of there toward the river. He said he's been trying to find out if he owns the cemetery, but didn't get far at the county courthouse. He couldn't even convince them that there was a cemetery there. He may need to get a surveyor to study the legal description and survey the land to find out if he owns the cemetery.

Anyway, he said it would be fine with him if we work on restoring the cemetery. He suggested we may want to fence the cemetery and put a gate in the fence, so no one drives into it and wrecks anything. He appreciated the history in the place. I gave him the link to the Wilson Cemetery Project on your web site. He doesn't have a computer or email, but said he can look at the web site at the library.

My conclusion from all this is that whoever owns the cemetery doesn't know it. But everyone is fine with it being restored. One use of a Wilson Cemetery Foundation would be to buy the cemetery so that ownership is clear in the future.

One more thing - from the tax records, ********'s property tax on whatever he owns was $60/year, so I could tell it was a small undeveloped parcel without much development potential. That was one thing that led me to him as the owner."

December 11, 2004

"I went back to the Wilson Cemetery today to try and verify the information you sent about the gravestones there. I also went to try and find the landowner. The trip was interesting, as they all have been.

The sky was gray to start with, and it was hard to read the stones. Then the sun came out. The low December afternoon sun side-lights those west facing stones and makes them easy to read. I have a number of corrections to your information. I entered them in red in the edited copy of your document, attached. I was sorry I didn't have my camera, because the photos would have been much better than last weeks.  There's also the broken off tablet stone in the "Wilson row". The top is gone, so all that's left is text that says "? years 9 months & 18 days" The number of years isn't legible because the stone is broken off right there.

One interesting observation: I was there last weekend and took pictures. There were a couple of saplings in the entrance that kind of blocked the photos, so I remember them. When I went back this week, the entrance is clear. The saplings are sawed off at the base and painted with some blue-green substance that I assume is poison. So someone is working there in addition to me. Someone who shows up with a saw and some kind of stuff to paint the stumps.

I then tried to find the landowners. (I had stopped at the library to get a plat book. The plat book doesn't show landowners in the area because the plots are too small.) I first went to the house on the old Wilson Farm, since the cemetery was on the Wilson farm to start with. There's an 80 year old man living there with 6 or 8 dogs. He said he's lived there since 1960, and likes talking about the old days. He knew the names of all the past owners of his land. He bought the place from a Wilson, but not one of our relatives. He wondered if I was a doctor, since he heard that many of the old Wilson's were doctors. He said he assumes the State of Minnesota owns the cemetery, since the state bought many plots along the freeway right of way when I-90 was built. He was sure no one would mind if the cemetery was worked on. He said he's seen groups of kids in there cleaning out brush over the years, but never knew where they came from. He saw a car parked there a few years ago and someone working on the cemetery, but didn't know who it was. He told me where the county road used to go before the freeway was built. I can see the old road cut. Now the cemetery is on the south side of the road instead of the north side, so I can see how those who could find it before are confused.

I then went to the house on the other side of the cemetery. The resident, a renter, had a strange story. He said the a man knocked on his door in the recent past (a year or two ago?) and said he had purchased some land in the area, about an acre, sight unseen, and was now trying to find the land he bought. The man said he was told there was a cemetery on the land. The renter pointed him to the Wilson Cemetery, and the man said that was probably what he bought. The renter asked why he would buy land sight unseen, and the man said it was because his wife is from the area. The renter said he didn't remember the man's name, only that he said he was from Peterson, MN (30 to 40 miles from there). The renter later talked to the other people living in the area, asking if they knew who owned the cemetery or of the recent sale of some land in the area. No one know anything about it.

So the ownership of the cemetery sounds like a more complex problem than I expected. It would probably take research at the county courthouse to find out who owns it. No one in the area claims to own it or expressed any concern about people working on the cemetery, at least. And I'm not the only one who works on the cemetery."

December 9, 2004

"I went to the Wilson Cemetery last weekend. The E. L. Wilson stone is reset.

I have one disappointment in the work that was done. The James G. and Sarah Wilson monument was three stones high, the same structure as the E. L. Wilson monument is now. When they stood the James & Sarah Wilson monument up again on the new foundation, they left out the bottom stone. They somehow moved the bottom stone into the same gully that I retrieved the E. L. Wilson stone from. It's way too heavy for me to move. When I asked about it, they said something about it being hard to bond the old bottom stone to the new foundation. I asked that they leave all three stones in place when they stood up the E. L. Wilson monument again, so they didn't put a new foundation under it. The ground is soft here and I hope the E. L. Wilson monument doesn't start to tip again. Anyway, the missing stone is still nearby if there's a desire to put it back in place. I think the monument is probably well bonded to the base, though. No text was on the missing base stone.

There's a retired couple in Monroe County to the east of here who restore Monroe County pioneer cemeteries as a hobby. There was a story in the La Crosse Tribune about them, and I'm told they gave a program on cemetery restoration at the La Crosse Public Library. I got a copy of their presentation from the library. It has good information on how to clean the stones and how to repair broken tablet stones... So there's plenty more restoration that could be done here."

November 6, 2004

"I have news from the Wilson cemetery. The cemetery monument people said they had cleaned up the cemetery and reset some stones, so I went out to check it out this beautiful November morning. They did a fairly nice job. They put a new foundation down for the James Gardner and Sarah Wilson monument, and stood up the monument on top of it again. They also set new foundations under the Sibyl Wilson headstone and under the Barney and Bridget Young monument. They stood up and reburied some other stones, like the S.B.W. stone that had been leaning against a tree. They also cleared some brush.

Now for the interesting part. With the cemetery cleaned up, I noticed there was still one tilted base for a monument. The strange part was that there was no headstone, either on the base or on the ground next to it. I didn't remember a headstone being there on previous trips to the cemetery either. It didn't seem like a sizable headstone could have moved far, so I started looking around. There's a gully next to the cemetery that locals have been using as a dump. When I looked down into the gully, with all the leaves off the trees, I could see a moss covered block of stone at the bottom that looked like it might be a gravestone.

When I went down and scraped off the moss, it said E. L. Wilson, born May 21, 1810, died June 8, 1898, at rest. It looks like we now know where Edward Wilson is buried.

I got my exercise for the day, and then some, rolling the stone up the hill back into the cemetery and next to the mysterious base. The base looks like the right size for the stone.

I'll call the monument people again and tell them there's one more stone to reset."

October 2, 2004

"On the way up to Winona, I took them (visiting family members) to the Wilson cemetery.  I was disoriented because it wasn't the way I remembered it. In our quick (5 minute) visit, I couldn't find the James Gardner Wilson and Sarah Wilson marker, though I remembered it as large. I went back to the cemetery later, and discovered that the James G. and Sarah Wilson marker had fallen over. It was on it's side half buried in the ground, so the writing was mostly buried. The base was still in place but severely tilted. I'm not sure if it fell over on it's own or was pushed. The top is a large block of stone. The smaller individual marker that just says JGW on it was still in place, but the matching individual SBW marker was broken off and the top is leaning against a tree. Other small markers are broken off also.

I called a gravestone company here in La Crosse and they took a look at the cemetery. He called back and said there are three memorials in the cemetery that are tilting and need a new foundation, including the J. & S. Wilson memorial. In addition, some of the smaller flat markers need work. I hired him to straighten up the cemetery.

I've been hoping to find time to go clean the brush out of the cemetery at some point. Maybe after they straighten up the stones.It seems strange to take responsibility for the cemetery. I hope no one takes offense at work being done or the cemetery brush being cleaned up. I've been thinking about having a sign made to mark the cemetery. Does it have a name marked on old maps? Is it Wilson Cemetery or Wilson Family Cemetery or something else?"

Click on the link below to view the 1867 plat map showing the location of James Gardner Wilson's property near Dakota in the township of New Hartford, Minnesota.  The cemetery is believed to be on the southeast side of the property.  It's on the inside of the left hand curve of the road (when going west), where the dark triangle is on the map.  The road is now very similar to what it was in 1867 except that there is a freeway underpass under I-90 just after the left hand curve.

1867 Plat Map