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home : columnists : columnists October 19, 2017

Mr. Polk went to Washington (And so did I)

Last month, thanks to some very nice friends, I was able to take a vacation on the east coast, part of which was spent in the Washington, D. C. area with my college roommate and her husband.

In between catching up with my roommate and playing tourist, I managed to slip in a little Josiah F. Polk fieldwork.

As you may recall, Josiah F. Polk, who founded Noblesville along with William Conner, has become something of a hobby with me. Being in Washington, D. C., where he spent most of his life, made me feel like the proverbial kid in the candy store.

Josiah (at this point I feel I entitled to use his first name) lived in "Washington City" from about 1830 to his death in 1860. Back then Washington wasn't much larger than Noblesville is today.

Never a shrinking violet, Josiah actually led a fairly prominent life there, not so much because of his job (he was a clerk in the Office of the Second Auditor of the Treasury,) but because of what he did outside the job and because of the people he knew.

He mingled with some of the biggest VIPs of his day - people like Henry Clay and President James K. Polk. (It was generally believed at that time that he was related to President Polk. He wasn't.)

In his later years, among other things, he served on the board revising the code of laws for the District of Columbia, was a trustee of the public schools and was a member of the board of managers of the Washington National Monument Society.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to retrace all his steps, but I did manage to pay a visit to his grave.

He's buried in the Congressional Cemetery, a place which probably isn't on the must-see list for most Washington tourists, but it could, and maybe should, be.

Established in 1807, it was essentially the country's first national cemetery, years before Arlington. Many famous people are buried there, such as Declaration of Independence signer Elbridge Gerry, "The March King" John Philip Sousa, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

It's beautifully a maintained space, more alive than dead. They offer a year-long schedule of tours and events, including a "Cinematery Movie Night," a "Dead Man's Run," and even photos with Santa.

Another unique feature is their K9 Corps, a private dog-walking program. Members get a place to walk their dogs, and in return the cemetery gets a little added security and a means of repelling Canadian geese.

I'd seen the cemetery's map online and thought I knew where Josiah's grave was.


My roommate, her husband and I went up and down the rows several times and couldn't find anything that said "Polk."

I actually announced I was giving up twice, but my roommate's husband wasn't about to let me leave without locating that grave. Thanks to his persistence, we eventually realized we'd been walking right past Josiah's headstone all along.

We finally identified the stone by its location and shape. The reason we'd overlooked it was because in the three years since someone posted a photo of it on Find a Grave, most of the details have been lost. The inscription is so badly worn, all that's legible now is the "F." and the "o" in "Polk."

Although three breaks in the headstone have been repaired and it's propped up by metal rods, at the rate it's deteriorating I'm afraid it's not going to last much longer.

That hardly seems fitting for one of the men responsible for Noblesville's existence.

Paula Dunn's From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Article comment by: Chuck Godby

Perhaps, Paula, you should begun a fundraiser to help pay for a new headstone for Mr. Polk. Or perhaps it's a cause the entire city of Noblesville could undertake.

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