HPC official wants to look at a city pioneer cemetery lot

Fort Madison Historic Preservation Commission chairman Chris Sorrentino has set his eyes on a city pioneer cemetery lot on the city's east side. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Lot just one of more than 60 in Lee County


FORT MADISON – The city’s Historic Preservation Committee has been working to clean up and refurbish the City Cemetery, but now efforts may also include a smaller historic pioneer cemetery on the city’s east side.

As Lee County ramps up its efforts to help maintain some of the county’s 60 plus pioneer cemeteries, HPC Chairman Chris Sorrentino is wanting to see where the city can help with the Hoffmeister Cemetery just off 2nd Street in Fort Madison.

The plot is the burial ground of at least 13 members of the Johann Hoffmeister family, including former ISP physician Augustus W. Hoffmeister who lived in the house on the property and had a private practice on the second floor.

Augustus Hoffmeister

Hoffmeister was also the only physician at the time seeing offenders on site at the prison. He was also a Civil War veteran.

The cemetery was registered with the Lee County Pioneer Cemetery Association in 2004 and a Pioneer Patriots Day was celebrated there in Sept. 2012.

Sorrentino said the end game is preservation.

“What I would like to see is if the Pioneer Association has it, let them keep it and maybe step in and assist them in a joint venture to preserve it,” Sorrentino said.

“There are some instances with these where it’s going to take more than one commission and more than one group to get things done.”

Carol Vradenburg, who lives in the home on the property with the cemetery, said she used to work to keep the plot cleaned but has since had a stroke and can’t get back to the lot which is about 100 yards into the timber on the northwest side of the property.

The last person to be buried on the lot was Robinson Berthl who was buried in 1962.

The State of Iowa defines “pioneer cemetery” as “a cemetery where twelve or fewer burials have taken place in the past 50 years. The Hoffmeister Cemetery hasn’t had a burial in the last 50 years.

The lot has cement vault blocks that cover about 10 of the sites. There is also rumored to be three children plots that have yet to be identified.

Vradenburg said there were several descendants of the family, including Jean Hoffmeister, who attended the 2012 celebration and put flowers on the graves for the dedication.

“The effort is to find out if the Pioneer Association is looking at this or if they are looking to maybe step in with the HPC and see if we can’t approach it from a joint venture,” Sorrentino said.

“This is the original house and I’d like to preserve both of these if we can.”

Sorrentino said neither the plot or the home are listed with the National Register of Historic places but, because Augustus Hoffmeister was a civil war veteran and a surgeon at the time, and built the home on the property, it could be something for future consideration.

Lee County’s Pioneer Cemetery Association is undergoing a resurgence of late and submitted a budget this year to the county for consideration for fiscal year 2023 starting July 1.

The association wants to identify ways to help clean up and preserve the cemeteries throughout the county.

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