If you look closely in the background of today's photo of the historic plaque for Atkinson Cemetery, you'll see highway 61. To the left, is the McDonald's, the right is a Tires Plus and directly behind where I stand for the photo is a frontage road. Despite the city sprawl, despite the cemetery being abandon for nearly 60 years, despite many early cemeteries being relocated, this historic plot of land is one of the oldest cemeteries in Minnesota that is still in it's original location.
The Atkinson Cemetery came to be in 1854 when John Atkinson and his wife Hanna, lost their son Martin at age 16 and a half years old on July 4, 1854, he drowned. They buried their son on a parcel of land they owned, this eventually became Atkinson Cemetery.
Some of the historical information has been lost over the years. There are a few tombstones that have no record of a body being buried and perhaps they are just a tribute to loved ones. There are oral records from family descendants that claim there are burials there for which no stone exist. Since there are no formal records for the cemetery, there is no way to verify the verbal information.
From: E. Katie Holm "The Cemetery Association appears to be inactive by the early 1900s, and, despite the tiny cemetery's significance, it fell into disuse after the burial of Alzina (Munger) Austin in 1909. With no one to care for it, and taxes due to the city, Atkinson became an abandoned cemetery. Eventually the cemetery became overgrown with lilacs and sumac, and fell prey to vandalism. In 1970 Elizabeth and John Erickson, a couple who took on the immense task of transcribing all of Washington County's cemeteries, visited Atkinson and found it in a terrible state. One of the Ericksons noted: "It has not escaped the attention of vandals, who have left standing only three stones, two of which were apparently too massive to topple and one of which was hidden behind a clump of lilacs….this cemetery is virtually unrecognizable as such from the roads on each side of it."
In 1974 the McDonald's franchise built a restaurant on the land just south of the cemetery. Apparently the cemetery was so overgrown no one even noticed it was there. By 1979 the cemetery was in such a bad state that the county handed it over to the City of Cottage Grove. The City, along with the local Lion's Club, performed a major overhaul on the cemetery. Toppled stones were removed for repair and restoration, and most of the vegetation, save one lone oak tree, was removed. The ground also had to be leveled since it was so pockmarked by gopher holes. The grave markers were then replaced, but due to the effects of vandalism and lack of cemetery records, no one is certain if the stones were returned to their original places."