Lawrence County Museum essay winners

Published 12:04 am Sunday, December 11, 2016

The following essays were the top winners in this year’s contest, sponsored by the Lawrence County Museum.


Burlington Macedonia Church
By Grant Wilson
Dawson-Bryant Elementary

On top of Macedonia Hill, sits an old forgotten church named Burlington Macedonia Church. It is located in Burlington, Ohio, just two miles from my house. It once held a significant place in the culture of the local community.

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A few decades before the Civil War, the Burlington area saw a large number of runaway slaves. Within that group, were a group of Baptist men with the names George Bryant, Charles Roberts and Henry King. These men founded the Burlington Church in 1811-1813, but they congregated in homes until they made a small building with sticks.

Years later, in 1849, a Virginia native and slave owner by the name of James Twyman, freed many of his slaves.

Right before his death, in 1849, he willed his freed slaves a small piece of land located on Macedonia Ridge for them to build a church.

Once they arrived in Burlington, they joined with the existing Baptist congregation who were meeting in their homes, and, together, they built the Burlington Macedonia Church.

Eli Thayer, the founder of Ceredo, West Virginia, supplied the lumber for the church. The former slaves and their white neighbors carried the lumber across the Ohio River in rowboats in order to build the church. The church had a simple building plan, without any architectural style. It had a stone foundation, a tin roof, with a steep pitch, and weatherboarding covered the walls.

Because the congregation was made up of a large group of black immigrants, the church quickly became a prominent place for local blacks, both religious and cultural. The congregation was also involved in assisting other slaves to freedom during the Underground Railroad.

As the years passed, many of the church members started their own churches here in Lawrence County and West Virginia. Eight of those churches remained active until the late twentieth century. Burlington Macedonia Church was a huge part of the beginning of our growing church community in our area.

In 1978, Burlington Macedonia Church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was listed because of both its historically significant architecture and its important role in the start of the community that grew around it, and is still growing today. The Ohio Historical Society placed a state historical marker at the site of the church in 2003.

A monument dedicated to the 37 slaves who made the journey from Virginia to Burlington stands at the entrance of the Burlington 37 Cemetery. This monument is called “The Promised Land” and has the names of all 37 former slaves engraved into it. The monument marks the final resting place of the 37 freed slaves who journeyed from Virginia to Burlington. The Burlington 37 Cemetery is located in Burlington, Fayette Township, Lawrence County, Ohio on Center Street.

The Burlington Macedonia Church is believed to be the first African American church established in Ohio. It still has the original outhouses used by the congregation. The building is in desperate need of restoration after years of weathering and vandalism. I hope my community comes together to help restore this beautiful landmark with so much history.


Antoinette Sherpetoska Peters
By Sunserae Henderson
Dawson-Bryant Elementary

I have been undecided on what person to base my essay on for the Lawrence County historical essay contest – until Saturday.

My family and I decided to go on the ghost walk to learn more about our Lawrence County history. As I was walking around the Woodland Cemetery, out of the corner of my eye, I saw beautiful ballerinas gracefully dancing around a marble mausoleum.

As I quietly approached, I heard about a beautiful Russian ballerina named Antoinette Sherpetoska Peters. I was so inspired by the story of a little girl who danced her way straight to the imperial ballet of Moscow, that I had to know more and share what I found.

Antoinette was born May 7, 1894, to Stephen and Barbara Sherpetoska in Lithuania. Antoinette’s family moved to the United States when she was small, and were living in Chicago in 1910. As a child, Antoinette dreamed of becoming a famous ballet star, but what she did not know is that she would later accomplish just that and more.

It was in Chicago where Antoinette met the love of her life, James Francis Peters. She and fell in love and later married on Feb. 12, 1916.

Antoinette was only 21 years old when she married James, who was 31 at the time. James was in Chicago to work with the Inland Steel Mill as a superintendent, but was a native of Ironton, Ohio. He was also an inventor, a chemist, an author and from a wealthy and well-to-do family. While the two lived in Chicago, it was there that Antoinette refined her ballet skills and was classically trained in the Pavley-Oukrainsky School of Dance. With lots of hard work, practice and training, Antoinette received an invitation to try out for the Imperial Russian Ballet.

Antoinette went on tour with the Imperial Ballet of Moscow and danced for the Chicago Opera. She would grace the cover of several magazines and win numerous awards, including the USO award.

After the pair retired, they moved back to James’ hometown of Ironton. Retirement is not good for ballerina, as Antoinette became a little heavy and no longer deserved her nickname of “teeny,” which was given to her when she was performing.

Small town life must have seemed boring compared to the life Antoinette had lived, traveling all over the world.
Eventually, Antoinette, begged, pleaded and convinced James to go back to Chicago for an extended visit with family. It was there, on Nov. 13, 1963, they were in a terrible automobile accident and, sadly, Antoinette was killed.

At the age of 69, Antoinette’s final resting place is in the beautiful Peters Mausoleum in the Woodland Cemetery in Ironton. Her gravesite is one of several that have seen vandalism throughout the years. The first was shortly after her funeral, where they broke into her mausoleum and knocked her casket to the ground, breaking its glass top, and robbed her body of all the jewelry that had been buried with her.

The grave robbers would go so far as breaking off two of her fingers to get the rings she was wearing. One such piece of jewelry stolen was an elegant brooch, given to her by Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

The next act of vandalism was in the 1980s, when one of the porcelain tile portraits was stolen off the outside of the mausoleum. In the portrait, she was in full costume and doing a beautiful port de Bras. Lastly, there was another portrait of her, close up, and, two years ago, someone shot it with a BB gun, damaging it and eventually took the entire photograph.

Antoinette’s spirit is very angry and it has been told that, after midnight, her ghost, along with her friends, can be seen twirling and dancing around the Peters mausoleum to ward off vandals. One night, during a full moon, I’d love to catch a glimpse of her ghostly ballet in all its glory.


Early Agriculture and the Beauty
By Austin Dement
Symmes Valley Elementary

A long time ago, when the first farmers came to Lawrence County, the land was harsh, and the woodland had just about any tree imaginable, from the ash tree, to the famous state Buckeye tree. Some people even said that when it would rain, the creeks would run black, because there were so many walnuts.

High hills and ridges made farming hard. Flat, fertile land was hard to find, but, luckily, the farmers found rich ground within watersheds. The creeks I love to fish in, my favorite of all, Symmes Creek, were very important because of the rich ground they provided.

Ridgetops became berryfields and orchards. Before anyone knew it, apples became the most wanted crop in Lawrence County. I have read that lines full of wagons, loaded with barrels of apples, stretching from the Ohio River over Bradrick Hill, to the end of Greasy Ridge, waiting to go on a ferry to Huntington to be sold!

In 1817, just a few months after Lawrence County was founded, Joel Gillett found something odd in a shipment of apple trees. It was a seedling that he gave to his son, who planted it next to the Ohio River. Years later, the tree had red, glossy fruit. The apple was called “Gillett’s Seedling,” but, later, in honor of the township, it was renamed the Rome Beauty Apple.

The tree that Joel’s son planted survived until the 1850s. It fell because of erosion of the bank. I think it very interesting that the Rome Beauty Apple is traced back to the odd seedling.

The Rome Beauty Apple is so important to our Lawrence County history that it is even on the county seal, along with a steamboat and an iron furnace!

Over 200 years from early farmers’ beginnings in Lawrence County, we have all kinds of crops and livestock. The most memorable and sweet to me is the Rome Beauty Apple.