Almost 200 years ago a young woman from New England died and was laid to rest in a field along the Detroit River. Her name was Catherine Clark.
Her family had come to this country in 1620 on the Mayflower and established the home in New England. There was a notable event in 1692 when one of Catherine’s great grandmother was hanged as a witch in Salem. Her story is told in the historical fiction book, THE HERETICS DAUGHTER.
In 1775, Catherine's’ grandfather, Watrous Clark, fought in the Revolutionary War in the battle of Bunker Hill and was with Washington’s army when he crossed the Delaware river to rout the Hessians.
After the war John Clark, Catherine’s father moved the family to Black Rock, NY. He was a successful merchant there until 1813 when the British burned the town. After the family’s home and business were destroyed they moved west to a rented piece of property in Ecorse Township, land that was to become Wyandotte, and the burial site of Catherine.
Her father John died the following year and John P. Clark and George Clark, Catherine’s brothers, took responsibility for the family. They founded a very successful and lucrative commercial fishing business. George was one of the first experts in aquaculture and the inventor of a rescue raft widely used on Great Lakes ships. In addition to his successful fishing business John P. built a shipyard and used the ships for a passenger/freight line that ran from Detroit to the Lake Erie islands. It included a stop at his amusement park on Sugar Island off Grosse Ile.
Among John P.’s real estate holdings was the land in Ecorse Township that held the graves of his sister and father. In 1869, he dedicated part of the land Oakwood Cemetery. The Clark family sold lots in Oakwood to many downriver residents. The land around the cemetery was purchased in 1890 by Michigan Alkali company that is now BASF. The cemetery was active until about 1920.
Oakwood Cemetery can be considered one of John P. Clark’s few failures. Neither he nor any of his heirs created a management plan or left funds for perpetual care. As the families moved away and the natural contour of the land encouraged flooding the cemetery was covered with weeds and flood waters in spring. Many organizations have worked to restore Oakwood and the efforts continue.