Sunbury Memorial Park is home to a monument dedicated to the Rev. Peter R. VanHouten, a blind itinerant preacher. VanHouten, who was born in 1814 in Bergen County, New Jersey, died in Sunbury on Jan. 20, 1876.
Rev. VanHouten may have been blind, but he reportedly had a very dependable horse that managed to get him from church to church.
According to Myers Inn Museum curator Polly Horn, one foggy night VanHouten was traveling along the cliff-side trail along Big Walnut Creek in the area behind Big Walnut Intermediate School. The horse lost his footing and horse and rider both went over the cliff.
O.L. Baskin’s 1880 History of Delaware County notes other horse and riders going over the same cliff and surviving – some on horseback, some in carriages — but Rev. VanHouten did not survive the fall. He was 62 years old.
But the story does not end there.
“A statue honoring the Blind Preacher won first place in the art exhibit at the second annual State Fair of the State of Ohio on September 27, 1851,” Horn said. “How the prize-winning statue ended up in Sunbury has been lost in time.”
The older part of Sunbury Memorial Park, platted in 1816 as the Sunbury Burying Grounds, is a walking history book worth a visit.
Sunbury’s bicentennial is in 2016. Pioneers who came to wilderness and settled the area are buried on the hill near the cemetery’s Columbus Street entrance.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093