Tombstones at Bigelow Cemetery offer a glimpse at the hard way of life the Ohio pioneers encountered: many children did not survive infancy; wives died young, often during childbirth, and epidemics sometimes claimed entire families. But there are also gravestones of hardy individuals in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, a remarkable testimonial to human survival at a time when adult life expectancy rarely exceeded 45-50 years.
Early pioneers considered the Darby Plains to be a “barren waste”. The plains consisted of extensive wet prairies that were too wet to plow. Mosquitoes thrived within the dense, wet prairie. By late summer, the soil would dry and crack. The prairie would now be at risk for raging prairie fires.
In the early 1800s, a small group of pioneers left New England and traveled west to Madison and Union counties. These families continued to follow the Post Road westward into the Darby Plains. These settlers staked out land, built cabins, and endured the hardships of the prairie wilderness. Eventually, through ditching and tiling, pioneers converted the Darby Plains into some of the most valuable agricultural land in the state.
One of the first communities in this area became known as the “Green Settlement”. The first leader of this group was Nehemiah Sabin. He was also the first teacher in the area. Nehemiah’s tombstone documents the first known burial in Bigelow Pioneer Cemetery. His death in 1814 was followed shortly after by Elizabeth McCloud. She was the daughter of Charles McCloud, an early settler from Vermont who lived in the nearby McCloud Settlement.
In 1815, Benjamin Hough, a Virginian from Ross country, Ohio, had the area including the cemetery surveyed. Three months after it was officially surveyed, Benjamin Hough received this land for his past military services. The land changed hands over the years and several former owners and their families are buried in the cemetery.
Today Pike Township owns the preserve. It is managed by the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.