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Feature on Jennie Pearl Bretches. Topic: PEOPLE
Written by Jim Sayre in December, 1996


Land just approved by the county board of health for a potential 22-lot subdivision in Franklin Township was the scene just over a hundred years ago of a tragic accident which took the life of a teenager, leaving her body and name to a new, nearby cemetery. The stone pearls adorning the center entrance gates to the township’s Pearl Cemetery near Swanders bear silent tribute to young Pearl Bretches who burned to death and became the first official burial in the cemetery.

At about 10 o’clock Wednesday morning in the late spring of 1893, 15-year old Pearl, adopted daughter of Thurman Kelsey, was baking a cobbler for dinner when her dress caught fire. The June 16, 1893, Sidney Journal account says she was "crazed by terror" and started for the home of Dennis Critton who lived just across Scott Road from the Kelsey place. The Kelseys were on a trip to Chicago at the time. The 163-acre Kelsey farm, on the northwest corner of the Sharp-Scott intersection, is the location of the houses proposed by developer Duaine Liette.

"Critton, who was working in a field, saw her and rushed up," according to the Journal account. "Her clothes were burned up, and only held together by a leather belt. He cut this, and she ran on, arriving at the house with nothing on but her shoes. She was at once taken care of and a physician sent for. She was frightfully burned about the body, only her breast and face escaping. Thursday morning she was taken home, the family having in the meantime been sent for. Later in the day she became unconscious and this (Friday) morning was hardly expected to live through the day." A sad postscript to the Friday Journal article noted that "Pearl Bretches died at 1 p.m. today..."

Pearl was buried in the new cemetery the following Sunday, according to the obituary appearing a week later in the Sidney Journal. "Over 800 persons attended, and 235 carriages followed her to the grave--the largest funeral ever held in the county," the Journal said. The services were held in the Reformed Church at Swanders, with the Rev. W. S. Culp presiding.

Jennie Pearl Bretches, born July 23, 1877, was the youngest of three daughters born to John and Euphemia (often spelled Phema in the records) Bretches. She and older sisters Catharine and Nettie, born in the Bretches home directly across Sharp Road from the Kelseys, became the wards of John Thurman Kelsey when their father died in 1878. John Bretches and brother Samuel, the executor of John’s estate, owned land on both sides of Scott Road. Records of St. Jacob Evangelical Lutheran Church show that Pearl was baptized on August 24, 1877, when she was one month old. John Bretius and Pheme Gouge were listed as parents. The late Roy Lacey who compiled the church records noted that "records are all given in German script or German writing," which probably accounts for the "Bretius" and "Pheme" spellings. Euphemia later married George Potts and died at her Sidney home on North and Oak in 1923.

Pearl’s adoptive parent was a relatively wealthy man, able to accept the added financial responsibility of more children, as coincidentally reported in the same Journal issue containing her obituary. An unusually candid front page article titled "They Have Money" reported the names and amounts "of those possessing $1,000 in personal property." Surnames familiar yet today are found in this "complete list of the persons in Shelby county who pay taxes on $1,000 or more of personal property." "...Some of the returns are a little surprising and altogether it would seem as if the country population was rather more conscientious in such matters than those living in corporate limits," the article editorializes.

Kelsey was listed with almost $4,000, compared with Sidney businessman I. H. Thedieck ($10,500), Buckeye Churn Co. ($7,120), Wagner Manufacturing Co. ($4,100), Sidney Printing Co. ($3,500), and manufacturer Philip Smith ($2,970). In another interesting juxtaposition of historical fact, the same Journal issue reported a transfer opearltombstone.gif (23292 bytes)f title creating the new Franklin Township cemetery. "The Trustees of the Reformed congregation at Swanders have filed a petition to authorize them to sell one-quarter of an acre of the church property, to reinvest the money in adjoining land, and finally to make over the whole property to the Trustees of Franklin township for graveyard purposes--all in accordance with a resolution passed by the congregation May 14, 1893." Over a hundred years later, Pearl Cemetery is once again undergoing major changes, with the addition of an 11-acre plot of land which will include more burial sites plus the new Franklin Township house now under construction.

"The first authentic burial after the cemetery was platted in 1893 was that of Jennie P. (Pearl) Bretches who died June 16th, 1893," according to the Adams-Mozley book, Memorial Records of Shelby County, Ohio, 1819-1975. "Others were buried earlier and ...transferred from the old St. Jacob Lutheran Cemetery one quarter mile north." "Pearl Cem. named for her..." according to the book Shelby Co. Newspaper Deaths, 1863-1899.

Two monuments guard Pearl’s resting place in the old northeast portion of the cemetery. A large obelisk displays her name and the dates of her birth and death. A much smaller stone about three feet east and alongside a graveled roadway has the name "Pearl" carved on top. On the stone’s face, this verse reminds us of the sadness felt by those 800 attending her funeral:

"A precious one from us has gone A voice we loved is stilled
A place is vacant in our home Which never can be filled.
God in his wisdom has recalled The boon his love had given
And though the body slumbers now The soul is safe in Heaven."

Pearl Cemetery is today a quiet, peaceful place along busy county road 25-A, not far from Interstate 75. It is beautifully cared for by Ed Counts, Jim "Monk" Meyers, and the Franklin Township trustees. Immediately adjacent to Pearl’s stone is a large monument to J.T. Kelsey who died in 1903 at 66 and his wife Jane Russell Kelsey who died in 1898, guarding her in death as he tried to do in life. While the farm fields of her childhood are being ripped by bulldozers to be developed into an urban-type development, Pearl and her cemetery will likely maintain a serene rest.


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