Southern Indiana High School Campus Serves as the Final Resting Place for Some Civil War Soldiers
No matter how long you've lived in a certain city, you may never truly know all its secrets.
Not only have I lived in Evansville since the day I entered this world, all four of my high school years (1991-1995) were spent at Mater Dei on the city's west side. So, when I saw a post in the "I Grew Up in Evansville, Indiana" Facebook group recently saying there was a cemetery on campus and some of the people buried there fought in the Civil War, I had to do some digging to see what I could find.
The History of Babytown Cemetery
Unfortunately, trying to find information on the internet about the cemetery didn't turn up much information outside of several "find a grave"-type websites. I even asked ChatGPT, which I thought was supposed to know everything about everything ever, to tell me about the cemetery, and this was the response it gave me:
I apologize, but I couldn't find any information about a "Babytown Cemetery" in Evansville, Indiana. It's possible that the cemetery you're referring to may have a different name or is not well-known. It's also possible that it is a smaller, private cemetery that may not have extensive information available online.
However, my search didn't come up completely empty. What I did discover is that the cemetery is named, "Babytown" because, at that time (the mid-1860s), Evansville was nothing like it is now. Most of the city was mainly what is now the downtown area. Over time, it would expand and fold many of the small towns around it within the city limits. One of those towns was Babytown which (obviously) was the area where Mater Dei and the Hilltop Inn currently sit. According to a report called, 'Vanderburgh County: Interim Report' published by the Historic Landmarks of Indiana in 1994, and shared by Indiana Memories, Babytown was a "thriving community" in the late 1800s and was home to "eight taverns, brickyards, a brewery, a flour mill, and a hardware store."
As Evansville expanded from the riverfront, towns like Babytown were brought into the fold and become part of the Evansville metro which led to parts of those towns being forgotten over time like the cemetery.
Who is Buried at Babytown Cemetery?
According to the Indiana Geneology Web Project website, the cemetery is home to some Evansville area-born men who were soldiers in the Civil War and either died following the war or died during combat. Those who are known to be buried there are Private George Hettenbach, Mason Newman (rank unidentified), William Olds (rank unidentified), and Joseph Woodruff, a voluntary member of Indiana's 25th infantry who died in a Chattanooga, Tennessee hospital before his body was returned home.
Where Babytown Cemetery is Located on the Mater Dei Campus
Again, I graduated from Mater Dei in 1995 and had no idea this existed. But, I don't think any of my classmates or any of the faculty members did either because it wasn't discovered until three years later in 1998 when the school began work on a project to expand the building, according to an article from August of that year in the Evansville Courier & Press titled, "Graves Found At Site Where Mater Dei Planned To Build." I was unable to find a copy of the article online and access to the newspaper's archives online is behind a paywall.
What's left of the cemetery is located on a hill to the right of the building when you enter campus from the main entrance off Harmony Way Road (what we and students before us called "the teardrop.") After the discovery of the cemetery, a historical marker was placed near four tombstones that were salvaged after the discovery by Marcella Massey of the Tri-State Genealogical Society in 2002 which notes the cemetery was "rediscovered by excavations during the modernization of Mater Dei High School."
It's nice to see respect paid to those who were here before us, and it truly shows that no matter how old we are or how long we've lived in a particular place, we may never fully know the history of every square inch of the ground beneath our feet. But, it is fun to try and learn as much as we can.