It might be hard to imagine that the oldest cemetery in Eden Prairie dates back to the Civil War. After all, when one thinks of Eden Prairie, it’s typically associated with the post-World War II or early 1950s context.
However, the Eden Prairie Cemetery was first established in 1864 and opened the following year. Located at 8810 Eden Prairie Road, it has been owned by the City of Eden Prairie since early 2022.
It is steeped in history. That’s where the Lake Minnetonka Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) comes in.
The DAR is over 130 years old and is comprised of approximately 185,000 members in 3,000 chapters worldwide. To be a member, you have to show lineal connections to a patriot of the American Revolution.
Kathy Huston, a member of the Lake Minnetonka Chapter and also the chairperson for the statewide DAR, led an effort to tend to, clean, and restore the gravestones or markers of over 5,700 Minnesotans who either served in the U.S. military or were early pioneers in their respective communities. Statewide, approximately another 17,000 were upgraded so they can be located through online sites such as www.findagrave.com.
“We had five veterans interred at the Eden Prairie Cemetery who served at various times in our history,” said Michelle White, a spokesperson for the Lake Minnetonka Chapter.
These included the gravesite of Civil War veteran James Fergason, who enlisted at Fort Snelling on Feb. 21, 1862, to serve in the Union Army’s 2nd Minnesota Light Artillery Battery; World War I veteran PFC Harry Carlberg, who enlisted on July 15, 1917, and served in the U.S. Army until he was discharged on July 25, 1919; and 1st Lt. Odmor Skjelbostad, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and was awarded the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Medal with three bronze stars.
Two Vietnam veterans who were killed in action are also buried at Eden Prairie Cemetery. They are Specialist 4th Class Jonathan Gens, who served in the U.S. Army as a medical specialist and died at the age of 18 in 1968 in Long An Province, Vietnam, and Sgt. Douglas Dressen, who served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer, died at the age of 21 in 1969 in Bien Hoa Province, Vietnam.
Both men received the Purple Heart posthumously.
White also mentioned that there are additional veterans buried at Eden Prairie Cemetery, and their graves have also received attention.
In all, DAR volunteers worked to restore a total of 43 gravesites at the Eden Prairie Cemetery. Twenty-one of these were veterans, and two were veterans’ wives. The remainder were pioneers.
“We highlighted the five men because we think their stories are interesting,” White said. (The five fought in a range of conflicts, and their background details could be researched and verified on the genealogy website Ancestry.com.)
“We also have honored vets in other ways,” added White. “The state chapter recently installed a marker at Fort Snelling to honor all Minnesota men and women who served our county whether in times of peace or war.”
The DAR also locates and tends to the graves of settlers and pioneers, primarily from the time when Minnesota became a state in 1858.
The Eden Prairie Cemetery was one of many in the metro area that the Minnesota chapter has addressed.
“We have several members in our chapter who live in Eden Prairie and are familiar with the cemetery, and they suggested it for consideration,” White said.
Approximately 12 volunteers worked during June, July, and August of this past summer on the project.
White added that the DAR has three primary objectives: education, historical preservation, and patriotism.
Through the DAR Genealogical Research System, the public can access a free database of information amassed by the DAR about these patriots.
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