A Lost Town, a Forgotten Cemetery, and a War Hero Who Calls it Home
By: Jacob Jones
Nestled on a small plot of land on the southside of 8 Mile between Grand River and Middlebelt sits the Clarenceville Cemetery.
The cemetery itself is difficult to spot. If one is driving down 8 Mile at the normal rapid rate of speed on your way to a busier part of town it would be easy to miss the tree obscured graveyard. But if you slow down enough, you can spot it. Guarded by a thigh height metal gate and a towering gate, the cemetery, especially at this time of year can be a bit foreboding.
But if you work up the courage to make your way through that metal gate you will enter a spooky Oakland County time capsule.
The cemetery is named for the town in which it once resided: Clarenceville. If you are looking for Clarenceville on a map today it may be tough to find but us locals know the importance of this forgotten town. Located on what is now 8 Mile Boulevard, Clarenceville was the last stop on the train route from Detroit to Lansing. Much like the Boulevard of today, Clarenceville became a prominent trade center. The man who most profited off this was the town’s postmaster and namesake: Thomas Clarency. The position of postmaster carried a lot of weight in these days and Clarency was able to open one of the region’s most successful Inns: the Botsford.
The town’s prominence didn’t prevent sprawl from taking it over, eventually being absorbed by Farmington Hills and Livonia. But there are remnants of the old town visible to this day. A school district still bares the Clarenceville name as does the cemetery.
Walking through the cemetery it appears as if the graves were aligned with no sense of rhyme or reason. Simple rectangular gravestones are scattered amongst towering headstones bearing the names of the area’s most prominent residents: The Vanleuven’s, the Sibley’s, the Lapham’s and the prominent 19th century attorney Benjamin Stevens are all resting in the Clarenceville Cemetery.
But there is one name, and gravestone, in the cemetery that towers above the rest: Benjamin Grace.
Benjamin Grace was a Revolutionary War Veteran who relocated from a crowded New York to Farmington to enjoy the open space that Oakland County afforded him.
Grace’s war record is something right out of a Hollywood film. Born in New Hampshire, Grace joined the legendary 1st New Hampshire Infantry at the age of 15. His fighting careers spans the entire war. His was present at the Battle of Lexington as well as the surrender at Yorktown.
Grace stayed in New England for most of his post-war life. He would create a large family and try his hand at farming. But as his life went on his children began to move away from him. His family moved westward and settled in Oakland County. Grace himself would move to Oakland County to live with his children in 1868.
A Revolutionary War veteran migrating to Oakland County was far from rare. It was reported in the 1912 edition of “The History of Oakland County” by historian Thaddeus De Witt Seeley, that no other county in Michigan attracted so many Revolutionary War Veterans. In fact, the first non-native person to settle in what is now Oakland County, James Graham, was a Veteran of the war.
Veterans traveled through Detroit, Ontario, Romeo, Rochester, and up and down the Clinton River making their way into the county. Revolutionary War Veterans built mills, churches, and successful boarding houses across the county.
In all, 35 Revolutionary War veterans would move to present day Oakland County and 19 of these veterans would be buried in the County but Grace is the only one to be buried in the Clarenceville Cemetery.
Much like many of the remnants of old Clarenceville, active citizens have fought valiantly throughout the years to preserve the cemetery. The Daughters of the American Revolution began decorating Grace’s grave in 1912 and other groups have given it recognition in the more recent past. But as time goes on the fight becomes harder.
As part of our 2020 initiative, 8MBA is proud to announce that we are actively pursuing historic recognition for the Clarenceville Cemetery to ensure the protection of the grounds, the town, and those resting in it for years to come.