Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: April 2001 Volume 39 Number 2, Pages 55–62

A Cemetery for Berwyn

Barbara Fry

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On January 12, 1863, at the first annual meeting of the Congregation of The Trinity Presbyterian Church of Reeseville (later Berwyn), twelve trust­ees were elected to carry on the business of the church. Elected for three years were William Clark, Joseph Smith, Eber Beaumont, Richard Matthews and Davis Taylor; for two years, John Lamey (Leamey), Mr. Hutchinson (who would very soon resign and be replaced by Thomas Aiken), Joseph Williams, Peter Burns Jr. and Patrick Williams; for one year Abel Reese, Joseph Evans, Henry Fritz, John Henthom and Morris Lewis. One of the first duties performed by this body was to make provision for a church cemetery.

At the trustees' meeting of April 17, 1863, Abel Reese, John Henthorn, Richard Matthews, Thomas Aiken and John Lamey were appointed a com­mittee to lay out the cemetery and to see Mr. Clark about the purchase of a portion of the land he had bought earlier from John McLeod, founding pastor of the church. The property lay between the church and Waterloo Avenue. William Clark was a Philadelphia lumber merchant, an active member of Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church, and a long time friend and associate of Rev. McLeod. The Board and Mr. Clark settled on a purchase price of $150 for a plot containing "two roods and eight perches," a little over half an acre. Mr. Clark would hold the obligation (extend credit) and would be paid from the sale of cemetery lots. The purchase price of the lots would be eight dollars until August of 1863, and thereafter the price would be ten dollars.

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The plot plan laid out for the cemetery shows the numbering of lots began in the northeast corner by Berwyn Avenue, and proceeded in a southerly direction along the church property line. Lots 1-11 were located in the front row, nearest the church; Lots 12-22 , numbered in the oppo­site direction, the second row, and so on toward Waterloo Avenue, In all, the plot plan provided for 142 numbered lots.

As the sale of lots began, the trustees ruled that no fences or chains would be allowed around the cemetery lots and that stones or posts placed at the corners of lots could extend no more than ten inches from the ground. This rule was published and had to be republished to be made effective. The existence of a cemetery in the village may have led to the location of an undertaking establishment there. At one time, John Hickman operated such a business on Knox Avenue.

To improve the appearance of the grounds, an iron fence was placed around the cemetery in 1887. Hugh Steen, then a trustee, financed the purchase which was first noted as $251.75 and later finalized as 281.75. Only $190 was collected by subscription at the church, so the trustees still owed Mr. Steen $91.75. When this obligation was fulfilled is uncertain; however, a portion of this wrought iron fence still surrounds the Churchyard today.

As the church approached its 65th anniversary, the lots in the cemetery had been sold. Anna Burkey, Martha Heiman's grandmother, in 1924, was the last person to be buried there. By this time several plots were unattended, as relatives of those interred no longer lived nearby.

Trinity's trustees petitioned the Chester County Quarter Sessions Court in 1929 to vacate the cemetery/ on grounds set out in Pennsylvania State Act No. 180, passed in 1923. The law provided that a cemetery could be vacated if it became unsightly and unsuitable for the burying of the dead. The trustees who signed the petition to the Court were W. A. Speakman, Wayne J. Pennell, Willian H. Fritz, Elijah W. Fees, J. F. Heagy, William B. Culp, C. H. Osborne and John McMahon.

The West Chester newspaper reported that Rev. Charles John Levengood, D.D., pastor of Trinity Church, testified at a hearing, "that the church is the owner of two tracts of land adjoining the church; the cemetery has become unsightly and now unsuitable for the repose of the dead; this ground is needed as site for the proposed manse for the pastor and other buildings. He said at a meeting of the congregation on January 27th,

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1929, they unanimously adopted a resolution to vacate the cemetery that has iong since become unnecessary; the petition is for an order of the Court to vacate the cemetery, remove the bodies, the markers, etc., under the Act of 1923. He said he has been pastor of the church for the past 17 years; the property is on Main, Berwyn and Waterloo avenues, and one square south of the Lincoln highway, and is in the center of the residential section of Berwyn; the church is chartered and the tract contains about 1-1/2 acres; in the cemetery are 21 marked graves, but the number of those unmarked is not known as there is no record of burials therein; these graves are scattered, and have been given no care by the lot owners for many years, though the church officers have mowed occasionally; there has been one burial in the cemetery in the past ten years, and two in 18 years; the church has 212 members; in late years, the members of the Berwyn church have been burying their relatives in Great Valley Presbyterian, Great Valley Baptist and Frazer Presbyterian cemeter­ies. The Berwyn church was incorporated in 1862, and the old cemetery has been used for over sixty years; there are evidences on the ground that some bodies have been buried there that are not marked in any manner." A letter written by Adan Murdoch, of Devon, to the Clerk of the Courts, was read in open Court, in which the writer stated that he had read in the Local News of the action of the church trustees to vacate the cemetery, and he thought it was a great shame to move the loved ones buried there, including his mother, two sisters and a brother.

The decree to vacate the cemetery was issued by the court on March 4, 1929. That year, Rev. Levengood purchased a large lot in the Great Valley Presbyterian Church cemetery for the purpose of moving the remains of Trinity's cemetery to a suitable location. Efforts continued into the 1930s to locate relatives of those still interred in the Trinity church­yard. Some church families moved their relatives to other burying places.

Rev. Levengood had told newspapers that the church needed to use the present cemetery as a site for the proposed new manse for the parson and also for a Bible School annex, but with the economic depression which had overtaken the nation, and the terminal illness of church lay leader Elijah Fees, plans to move the cemetery were set aside.

At the end of the decade, Rev. Levengood retired and a manse was pur­chased on Howellville Road for the new pastor, Rev. Elbert H. Ross and his bride. Still, plans for new buildings on the church property were anticipated, and monies were accumulated for that purpose through the years of World War II.

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Chart of Berwyn Cemetery 1906

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By 1951, vigorous post war growth of the church, and the booming suburban development, required that new buildings be erected. Trustee Eugene Lang spearheaded the movement to finally vacate the cemetery so that new Sunday School rooms and a Fellowship Hall could be built on the site and a parking lot provided for the growing number of church members.

The trustees were advised by their lawyer that the 1929 court decree was still in effect, and the cemetery could be moved as long as such ac­tion was publicized in two local newspapers for two consecutive weeks. Such publication was made in the West Chester Daily Local News, the Downingtown Archive and the Main Line Times. The newspaper advertise­ments still remain in the church records:

"TO VACATE CEMETERY -- To whom it may concern: At a meeting of the Congregation of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Berwyn, Pa., Monday, September 24, 1951, a resolution was unanimously adopted directing the Trustees to exhume the bodies now interred in the Cemetery adjoining the Church, remove and re-inter said bodies in the Great Valley Presbyterian Cemetery, the expense thereof to be bourne by said church...."

Later, in October of 1951, the bodies still interred in the Berwyn cemetery were exhumed and removed to the location in the Great Valley Presbyterian cemetery purchased earlier by Rev. Levengood for that purpose.

The transfer of the remains did not have the exactness one would have preferred. In the earliest years, simple wooden coffins had been used for burial. Removal was difficult. The only grave chart in Trinity's records was made in 1906 and was incomplete, even at that time. Many graves had no identification at all.

Identified remains were carefully marked at the removal site and in the records of Great Valley Presbyterian cemetery. Such remains were placed in small wooden boxes. The invoice for this work showed 21 small boxes were purchased for this purpose at $13.50 each. A large box, at $60.00, was purchased for the unidentified remains. All of the grave stones were broken and buried under Trinity's parking lot in this removal.

One of the gravestones from the Berwyn cemetery does yet exist. Frank Stauffer died in February of 1895. When his wife Etta died in 1928, she was buried at Great Valley Presbyterian cemetery. At the same time her husband's gravestone and remains were removed in Berwyn to be placed next to her. This location turned out to be just across the driveway from

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Trinity's lot at Great Valley. The early Stauffer marker can be clearly seen located near the fence along Berwyn Avenue in an early Berwyn post card view showing Trinity Church and a portion of the cemetery about 1906.

For 37 years, Trinity's lot at Great Valley was marked with simple 2-1/2 by 8-inch bronze plaques on slender posts. Names of the interred were engraved on the plaques. By 1988, when Trinity celebrated its 125th Anniversary, some of the posts for the plaques were bent and the inscriptions were in some instances unreadable. As a part of the 125th Anniver­sary celebration, the church session directed elder Mildred Kirkner to see that these graves were suitably marked. A fine stone was placed at the front of Trinity's plot with the names of those known to be buried there listed on a bronze tablet attached. Another interment was made before the mass movement. Long-time church member Fannie Nixon became the first interment at Great Valley when she was buried near the rear of the lot in 1 940.

Trinity's cemetery lot at Great Valley lies inside the far entrance in the area on the west side of the driveway, just before the bridge. Random greenery screens the run-off ditch under the bridge, and large shade trees at the front and back of the lot have grown strong and beautiful to shelter the graves. The property is well cared for, as provided in the perpetual care agreement with Great Valley Presbyterian Church.

We have some knowledge of a few of the persons whose graves were moved in the final removal from Trinity's Cemetery in Berwyn. Richard Dill Matthews was the first elder of the church, elected on January 4, 1863, the day the church was organized. He died less than a year later at the age of 37. Upon his death, his small farm at the corner of what is today Conestoga Road and Francis Avenue was sold to Joseph Williams.

Maggie Marshall was the sister of Etta Stauffer. Maggie had come to Berwyn with the Frank Stauffer family in 1874. She later married Ethelbert Lobb, carpenter, and a member of the very large Lobb family. Maggie became the mother of five children. She died in September of 1892 during the week Trinity's present church sanctuary was dedicated. The ailment that suddenly came upon her was described as a "cold."

Multiple tragedies in the family of Alexander Murdoch led to burials in the cemetery in Berwyn. Murdoch was the shepherd of the great farm of Chesterbrook, brought here from Scotland by Alexander Cassatt who sought to make the livestock on his farm the best it could be. In 1895,

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Murdoch's wife Jeanne gave birth to twins, Jeanne and James. Baby Jeanne died at two months and little James died at two years from burns suffered in a fire started by a passing train on the Chester Valley Railroad. In 1902, Jeanne herself died from a fall. Climbing into a high cupboard, she lost her balance and fell to the floor. She bled to death before any of her family arrived home to find her. In 1904, the Murdoch's married daughter, Margaret Murdoch Warburton, died in childbirth.

A list of those persons reburied in 1951 at Great Valley Presbyterian Cemetery after removal from Trinity's cemetery in Berwyn follows:

In the front row:

Samuel Burkey, b. October 16, 1833; d. April 20, 1915
Anna L. Burkey, b. December 24, 1840; d. April 1, 1924
Baby Jeanne Murdoch, b. June 27, 1895; d. August 19, 1895
James Murdoch, b. June 27, 1895; d. October 11,1897
Jeanne Campbell Murdoch, b. in 1863; d. June 14, 1902
Margaret Murdoch Warburton, b. in 1885; d. September of 1904

In the second row are:

Ann Baum, d. May 6, 1872
Ann Smith, d. December 27, 1901 age 95 years
William W. Pennell, d. February 11, 1892 age 23 years ) Pennell's
Howard A. Pennell, d. March 12, 1872 age 1 year ) were buried
Lydia Jane Pennell, d. March 7,1886 ) under one
Viola Pennell, d. April 19, 1876 age 1 year ) marker
Richard Dill Matthews, d. April 3, 1864 age 37 years
James R. Sharp, d. January 3, 1888 age 24 years
Maggie M. Lobb, d. September 19, 1892 age 43 years

Buried in the third row:

Jacob Clay Seasholtz, d. April 18, 1888 age 17 years
J. E. Burkey, b. April 8, 1862; d. February 8, 1887
Elizabeth Supplee, d. March 25, 1864 age 43 years
Peter Supplee, April 10, 1890 age 73 years
George Gwinn, b. in 1828; d. in 1862
Sidney T. Gwinn, b. in 1828; d. in 1898
Eliza Brown Scott, d. in 1862
Henry Scott, d. March 5, 1897
Martha Scott, d. December 11, 1879

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Also buried directly in Trinity's lot at Great Va!!ey is long-time member Fannie E. Nixon, born June 12, 1866; died May 22, 1940. Even more recently, Rev. Elbert H. Ross, born in 1915; died in 1949, Trinity pastor 1941 -1948, was interred in a Trinity lot at Great Valley which had been transferred to the Ross family by the church.

Where others, once buried in Berwyn but removed from the Berwyn Cemetery before October of 1951, were reinterred may not ever be known, except for a few traced from the cemetery chart of 1906. Those so identified were reburied as follows:

In Great Valley Presbyterian Cemetery:

Anna M. Fritz, b. in 1868; d. c. January 23, 1869
Henry Fritz, b. in 1836; d. October 28, 1870
Frank H. Stauffer, b. October 3, 1832; d. February 15, 1895
Infant children of Marshall Stauffer, d. in 1880s

In St. David's Church (Radnor) Cemetery:

Henry E. Longenecker, b. August 20, 1840; d. August 31, 1899
Mary Roland Longenecker, b. May 17,1836; d. September, 1896
Harry E. Longenecker, b. October 11, 1870; d. October 10, 1882
Paul Longenecker, b. March 7, 1878; d. October 10, 1882

Note. This article is based upon information in the Berwyn Cemetery records found in the archives of Trinity Presbyterian Church.


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