The Kresge Monument

The Kresge Memorial, Salem Church Cemetery, Gilbert

A couple years ago, quite by accident, I stumbled upon the Salem Church Cemetery – which is known by most as the Gilbert Cemetery – located on the northern edge of the small community of Gilbert. I had turned onto Gilbert Road looking for a place to turn around when I spotted the cemetery a short distance away at the junction with Long Mountain Road.

A large monument next to Long Mountain Road instantly caught my attention. Parking in a dirt lot across the road from the cemetery, I studied the large stone that towered over the majority of the stones on this sacred piece of land. Carefully crossing the road, I entered through an old gate.

I carefully walked among the old, fragile stones toward the monument. At the base of the backside of the monument was a row of old stones. Kneeling for a closer look, I noted they were in a foreign language, one that I instantly recognized as German, but had no clue exactly what was chiseled into them. What I did find interesting as I studied the stone was the different spellings of the same last name on the stones. The family name on the stones was Kresge, Gresie, and Kersi, until the spelling of the last name settled on Kresge as the proper spelling.

Walking around to the front of the large memorial, I was taken in by a magnificent carving that dominated the front of the stone. The scene was of an Indian stalking a man and young boy, which I immediately interpreted as being father and son. The father was occupied with cutting down a tree while the son sat astride a log. Along the base of the memorial is the inscription: “In memory of Conrad Kresge and Family / Pioneer settlers of Monroe County. / By their descendants in America.”

Below the inscription was a row of brass plaques set into the base of the monument. As I read the plaques, I quickly realized that these were the translations for the old stones behind the memorial. While the main monument was dedicated on August 19, 1915, these plaques and the stone that they are set in were added in 1971. I would later discover the old stones were originally located in front of the memorial, but at some point – I’m assuming it was in 1971 when the plaques were added – the older stones were reset at the rear of the memorial.

The story told in the carving begins with Conrad settling in the region around 1745. He would marry Anna Margarethe Kohl and they would settle in the area of present day Effort, which is located a short distance north of Gilbert. Margarethe’s stone reveals an interesting piece of family history: she bore twelve children and  lived to see eighty-three grandchildren and seventy-five great-grandchildren.

Note: While I was researching this, I found it interesting that her stone lists her name as Margarethe Anna, but most histories and official documents list her name as Anna Margarethe. I will refer to her as Margarethe in this entry due to it being the name on her tombstone.

The scene on the front of the memorial tells the harsh reality of pioneer life. The wilds of the Pocono Mountains were dangerous, but Conrad and Margarethe cleared the land and raised their family at the edge of the frontier. They, like all of the settlers within this rugged terrain, dealt with attacks from the Delaware and Shawnee Indians during the French and Indian War and later by the Iroquois Indians during the Revolutionary War.

Conrad and Margarethe would lose their first child, daughter Anna, in infancy. Their next child was John, who was born in 1764. Sadly, John would not reach adulthood either.

In 1776, Conrad Kresge set out one morning to cut wood near the family homestead. On this particular day he was accompanied by his twelve-year-old son, John. It happened on this day that a band of Indians would sweep through the area. One of the victims was young John Kresge who was killed when struck by an arrow and his lifeless body was scalped by the raiding party. According to family tradition, Conrad escaped by deflecting the arrows and tomahawks with his axe as he ran for safety.

Wounded during the attack, Conrad was not able to join the party that went in search of the raiding Indians. According to family tradition, these wounds would actually save his life, as the party was ambushed by the Indians and massacred.

Despite Conrad being at the center of the carving, Conrad does not have a stone at the family monument. Digging into the family history, I discovered he is not even buried within the boundaries of this cemetery. In fact, it is not known exactly where Conrad is buried. Most sources believe he rests in an unmarked grave at the cemetery in Effort, which was closer to the family homestead. Some other places state he may have been buried on the family homestead.

As a stood there, I noticed a large mausoleum a short distance away. I discovered this was the resting place of Sebastian S. Kresge, one of Conrad’s great-great-grandsons.

Sebastian would make his mark on the American landscape. A businessman by nature, in 1899 he founded the S.S. Kresge Company, which operated a number of five-and-dime stores with the first being opened in Detroit, Michigan. When the company was incorporated in 1911, it had grown to 150 stores. These stores would undergo a name change in 1962 becoming the national retailer K-Mart, the first of the mass market stores in America.

I paid my respects to the Kresge family, along with the other early pioneers of Monroe County, before leaving them slumbering for eternity. As always, if you choose to visit the memorial, please do so with the respect this piece of land and those resting here deserve.

Note: I’ve discovered that a number of newspaper articles about Sebastian. In many places he is listed as being the great-great-grandson of Conrad and Elizabeth Kresge, not Conrad and Margarethe. He is the great-grandson of Conrad and Elizabeth – this Conrad was the son of Conrad and Margarethe.

While doing research, I also found two different sources that mention the monument marking the graves of the Kresge Family, and many of the stones in this section of the cemetery, may not be located at the correct spot. The cemetery had undergone many years of neglect and many of the stones had been discovered resting along the edge of the cemetery. Through donations the stones were reset in the area it was believed they once stood. I have not been able to find an official statement if this is true or not.

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