a gift of chester county history from south dakota: learning about hiram woodyard

Above is the grave of Hiram Woodyard. He was a freed slave and Black Civil War Soldier who resided in the village of Bacton, “Bacton Hisotric District”, AKA “Bacton African American Community”.

In 1991, Jane Davidson, the then Chester County Historic Preservation Officer certified that one of the houses attributed to him on Conestoga Road as a “County Historic Resource”. She said “The events and activities that have occurred in and around the site form a chronological record of past knowledge that portrays a history of the area.”

The historical information listed in some of the paperwork states:

This resource is part of the Bacton Historic District which is a post-Civil War, Afro-American community. This resource is also connected with Hiram Woodyard who was a prominent member of this community….Due to previous development there is an eminent potential to widen Rte. 401,this threat would negatively impact the integrity of this resource.

In other paperwork, the same author continues:

Hiram Woodyard, one of two leaders in the Bacton African-American community, has become a local folk hero in recent years. While part of the timber industry as a fence maker, he also commanded a great deal of respect for his leadership ability, not only in the community, but also in the Union army.

 

This fascinating information would have been something my friend the late (and missed) Al Terrell, would have loved.  He and I shared another soldier (it’s how we both became interested in the site),  Joshua Johnson  (Pvt., Co. K, 45th Reg., United States Colored Troops (USCT) (Civil War). I find this to be incredibly historically significant as the army began to organize African Americans into regimental units known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in 1863.

Al was so excited this time last year when grave after grave was uncovered, including Hiram Woodyard, whom we knew had started out life as a slave.  As a freed slave he did so much, including by all accounts being a revered community leader, and he fought for a country which had originally enslaved him.

This new information (and I will embed everything shortly within this post), did not come to me via Chester County.  It came to me all the way from Winner, South Dakota, thousands of miles away!

This information started to arrive on September 12, 2017 from Eleanor Miller, who along with her sister, Grace English, once lived in East Whiteland at 416 Conestoga Road.

In the first packet of information was a letter and here is an excerpt:

Enclosed please find the papers in regards to my grandparents’ home. (Charles and Stella Rost, 418 Conestoga Road.)

I married and moved away from my home, 416 Conestoga Road, in 1967…In 2012, Malvern Patch identified the house on 414 Conestoga Road as Hiram Woodyard’s.  I believe they were incorrect….My sister and I try to visit Bacton Hill once a year.

To follow (embedded) is what Eleanor sent to me.  It is part of Hiram’s history she gained through personal research.  This is such a treasure to receive!

Ebenezer is hanging in there and one of Al’s sons still comes back and cuts the grass and weeds when he has time, but Ebenezer needs ALL of our love.  I put out the plea once again if anyone can interest the AME church in their own important history, please do.  These old souls belong to us and all of our history in Chester County as well as being crucially important historically to the AME Church and black history in general.

Say a prayer in remembrance for the old souls buried at the ruins of Ebenezer on Bacton Hill road in Frazer, and remember Al Terrell too.

Pax

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

Hiram Woodyard Chester County Paperwork

Hiram Woodyards House

The House That Hiram Built

 

saving heritage: the ruins of ebenezer ame on bacton hill road

ebenezer ame

Two years ago, I wrote three posts on an abandoned church I had stumbled upon:

ebenezer ame church – bacton hill road

it’s palm sunday, so why not post about an abandoned church?

on good friday, remember the churches abandoned by time and man e1

Well, interestingly enough there has been renewed interest in this church, formerly located on Bacton Hill Road in East Whiteland Township, Chester County. Yes, I am writing again about Ebenezer AME Church.

e3For me, this all began as a fascination of a ruined structure that I later received more information on.  Ebenezer AME in Frazer was built in 1835.

e9Apparently the oldest grave stones in the cemetery date back to the 1830s. An Eagle Scout named Matthew Nehring did a project a few years ago now  uncovering the gravestones. (Have no idea if his project is finished.) According to the photos it appears some of the dead buried here are soldiers and veterans.e8

One gravestone is for a Joshua Johnson  (Pvt., Co. K, 45th Reg., United States Colored Troops (USCT) (Civil War). I find this to be incredibly historically significant as the army began to organize African Americans into regimental units known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in 1863.

e4According to the East Whiteland Historical Society  this church used to serve as a “hub” of African American society in Frazer. Also according to East Whiteland Historical Society:

Members of this community have been documented as former slaves.  Their ability to construct this church demonstrates the e5prosperity and commitment of this community.

The trustees of the Ebenezer AME church purchased the land in 1831 from James Malin.  The oldest gravestones found in the cemetery date from the early 1830’s.  The congregation disbanded for a time between 1848 and 1871 during which time the building fell into disrepair.  By June 22, 1873 the church had been rebuilt and rededicated.  It continued to be used until 1970; then intermittently until the 1940’s.  Now it is abandoned.

I will note that when Patch covered this in 2012 they showed a lot more gravestones than I was able to locate in 2013.  It is now 2015. The Eagle Scout (Matthew Nehring) put what he found on Find A Grave. On that website it is listed as Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Cemetery (Also known as: Chester Valley African Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Valley Hill Cemetery).e6

On Memorial Day I thought of Joshua Johnson, the  Civil War soldier buried there. He is a valid part of our soldiering and military history in this country, yet who remembers him? Does the East Whiteland Historical Society remember him? Does anyone? Does he have any ancestors still living in Chester County who may not know his grave exists?

On Pennsylvania Gen Web I do not even find this church or cemetery mentioned. Its not listed on other websites on which you would go to look up information. I do not know how to look the property up on Chester County property records to attempt to track a deed, I have tried.

I would venture a guess that this church once upon a time was part of The First Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. But once again, locally some of us know this church existed, but it is very hard to find information.

This church is a definite candidate for a Pennsylvania Historical Marker but in addition wouldn’t it be great to get this site preserved in some way? The graveyard cleaned up and preserved? I think the land is still owned by the AME church, but how to find the records and get them to acknowledge this sacred place escapes me.

This place should MATTER. I have no idea if the National Trust for Historic Places would be interested but they should be.  #thisplacematters

East Whiteland has some fascinating history.  And if we are not careful, it will all fade away.  East Whiteland isn’t just home to business parks along 29 and 202. Between this crumbling church and places like Loch Aerie and Linden Hall, shouldn’t the historical commission  be reaching out to national and state wide preservationists?

If you have any information on Ebenezer AME Church please feel free to post it on a Facebook Page called Living in East Whiteland. Living in East Whiteland is a closed page, but you may request to join. You may also post information on Chester County Ramblings’ Facebook Page.

Together we can try to not only preserve the beauty that is Chester County, PA but the history as well.

Thanks for stopping by.

e7