Yes a little far afield if you live in Chester County, but I love old graveyards and church yards and this one has its place in history and needs help because the buildings and church associated with what is actually two graveyards in one is going through a development plan/proposed development plan.
Truthfully if it is the right kind of plan, I have no issue with adaptive reuses of churches. But I have a big problem with developers all across the country not respecting the dead and buried. Abandoned and disregarded graveyards are so sad, and people are working feverishly to see that fate does not fall to these graves. I have long wondered if this land parcel was developed if some or all of the graves would be at risk, and I think they are. And how do you do that knowing veterans of many wars who fought for our freedoms are buried there? Are the graves of our ancestors and soldiers and others so disposable?
I am talking about the Odd Fellows and United Methodist Church of Gladwyne cemetery on Righters Mill Road in Gladwyne, PA. (Although I have blogged about the abandoned crumbling ruin that is Ebenezer AME in Frazer.) Many familiar area names are
buried there – even beloved Philadelphia
The long and short of it is some really wonderful people are trying to ensure this cemetery land is preserved along with the graves and family plots that are still viable (which I am sure is not many).
Here is the e-mail I was sent today and if you can help in ANY way, please contact the sender of the e-mail, not me:
From: “christine mcguire” <email@example.com>
Sent: Friday, June 7, 2013 11:31:18 AM
Subject: Cemetery Info
This is the most recent information regarding the Merion Square Cemetery and Gladwyne Methodist Church. Thank you for reading this long email, we really need your help.
The Church, cemetery and parsonage twin houses (2) are all under an agreement of sale with a developer (Main line realty investors) who are Evelyn “Mac” Brand, Craig Brand, and Scott Brehman. The sale will not go through if they do not get all of their various zoning, HARB, Planning Commission and township approvals to change set backs, zoning, impervious surface areas, etc. The plan is to convert the church into 3 condos with garages and to put 2 new construction houses on either side of the Odd Fellows hall next door – which they already own. They will reconfigure the driveway that allows people to drive into the cemetery, and combine the church and odd fellows cemetery into 1 larger cemetery.
The Church is not sold yet, and they will not go to closing if they do not get everything they want and need to make this project. If it is all approved, the condos will be 20 feet to the first grave, and on one end that is the grave of Richie Ashburn. Beyond the Ashburn grave is another sold plot, owned by a family now living in Ohio and they want their plot. It will have a driveway over it if this project goes forward.
The church cemetery has graves from the 1850s that are clearly marked with headstones. Running along the side of the church cemetery is a long strip of land approximately 20-30 feet wide and over 100 feet long. There are no headstones in this strip of land, and there is no clear separation of this land from the cemetery. We do not know if there are graves, very very old graves, in this strip of land and perhaps that is why the church began burials in what is now the main cemetery part. There are 2 flags planted in this seemingly empty strip of land every Memorial Day, and this year we asked why. The response was that there are 2 Revolutionary Soldiers there, and I got their names from the SAR cemetery website, Miller and DeWees, and Drummer and a Fifer. Their names are also on the DAR Plaque at the Baptist Church on Old Gulph Road, though that plaque says John DeWees and Unk Miller (Fifer).
So the questions we must answer are:
- Why are the flags placed in that open part of the cemetery every year?
- Does anyone know or can prove that the location of the soldiers is actually in that spot where the flags are?
- Does anyone have any paper record of why or how we got their names, and why we think they are in that cemetery? I have confirmed that there are NO OTHER revolutionary soldiers in that cemetery.
- Does anyone know anything about that long strip of land and why it was not used by the Methodist church for more burials post 1850? I know there was discussion about using it for more burials in the 2000’s, but that may have been by people who did not understand that there were bodies there already.
Please note that I have cross checked DeWees and Miller with the names of everyone who is in the church cemetery, with a headstone or not. To be clear, I have the names of the person who owns the plots and the names of who is buried in the plots, and Miller and Dewees are not there.
So by default, if Dewees and Miller are there at Merion Square cemetery, then they have to be in the strip of land that appears empty, because the main cemetery is completely sold out, though there is room for more burials in different family plots, and the developers will have to allow these funerals and burials to continue.
The same for Off Fellows cemetery right next to Merion Square, though Odd Fellows has 361 plots that could be sold, the developer does not want more funerals and has stated that she will not sell those plots, but will allow people to be buried in the plots they currently own.
We know that the land was given to the Methodist Church in 1840 by Dr. John Anderson for the sum of $2.00
It is possible that this was because that land was already a cemetery and this made it the perfect place to put a church? Maybe this is why the church began its burials slightly apart from where the original cemetery was??
The developers have conducted their ground penetrating radar and found nothing anywhere. We have done ours and found anomalies in the ground, but nothing definitive. Shifts and changes in the dirt could be tree roots, pipes, old pieces of structures, etc.
Our radar man is coming back next week with a different machine to try again. He told us that without a coffin and with the bodies possibly being 230 years old, we may not ever find them using any type of radar. In fact we had him run a control and try to see a known 1857 grave, and it did not come up on the radar at all and we know that there was a body there. Our ground is full of clay, and this is the worst soil to use radar with. So clearly, we can now dispute the claim of the developer because it is unlikely that any radar company would find a 230 year old body buried without a coffin in clay soil. Add to that the information that many drummers and fifers were very young teens, in some cases children, and so the bodies would be smaller to begin with, and they were buried in sacks, not in coffins.
We just need any type of record to prove that Dewees and Miller are there. The Planning commission has stated that the developer must not find any bodies in that strip of land, or it will have to all be considered cemetery – and then their parking lot plan is finished. We should have as many groups as possible involved in this to prevent paving over the graves of these young heroes……
Please note that the church is not falling down or in disrepair. The John Neumann fellowship is currently renting it and wants to stay. The church has a ballroom and offices that could be rented out so to generate income to continue to maintain the cemetery, and there is also the possibility of another church group or community group buying the church, and allowing it to continue on as it was intended.
Thanks so very much.
Dr. Christine McGuire
To see more photos of graves of Odd Fellows and Gladwyne United Methodist Church please see this photo set HERE.