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2007 Beaver County Times Article

Friday, August 17, 2007

Historic cemetery falls into disrepair

Bob Bauder - Times Staff

PULASKI TWP. - Susan DeMarco was stunned this spring to find hip-high grass covering the historic tombstones of Grove Cemetery on the outskirts of New Brighton.

DeMarco of Chippewa Township and her mother, Pearl Gacesa of New Brighton, were making their annual May cemetery trip to clean and decorate family graves. The burial plot was so overgrown that the two women turned around and left.

That was Mother's Day. They figured the grass would surely be cut by Memorial Day. But when May 28th rolled around, they found the cemetery in the same condition.

"It was heartbreaking to see it in such condition," said DeMarco, who grew up in New Brighton and frequently visited the cemetery during her youth.

Grove Cemetery is facing perhaps the worst crisis in its 148-year history: lack of funding. It's a common predicament for 19th century-burial plots, according to cemetery experts.

Built as pastoral monuments to the dead, cemeteries like Grove suffer from the very thing that put them in business in the first place: death. The founders have all died. So have generations of their relatives.

And the communities where they're located have lost interest over the years because of changing demographics.

Money that may have been set aside in the beginning for cemetery maintenance has been spent long ago. The cemeteries fill up over time. Revenue from burials wanes. Newer cemeteries crop up, and older ones cannot compete.

Combine all of that with the high cost of maintaining thousands of graves, and you have a situation similar to the one that Helga Cook, manager of Grove Cemetery, contends with every day.

"I'm the only fireman, and I have a lot of fires to put out," Cook said.

Cook has managed to keep Grove Cemetery operating. She enlisted volunteers and several community groups to pitch in and cut the high grass of the spring. At first glance it looks as if the cemetery is now in good shape.

But a closer look reveals crumbling roads and broken drainage systems. Tombstones have fallen over. Dead trees threaten graves. Cemetery equipment needs to be repaired. Cook has $3,000 in the cemetery checking account. It's enough, she thinks, to keep the grass mowed this year.

Next year is another story.

"It seems with these big old cemeteries there's a natural progression," said Mark Barnes of Harmony Township, who has written a book about Beaver County cemeteries. "They start out where all of the people of the town are buried there. The descendants all start to die off. Cemetery space runs short. Once it gets to that point, people start to lose interest in it.

"It seems like it has to go through that stage where it's all overgrown, and the community needs to see that it's going through that decay stage before they want to reclaim it."

Historic beginnings

Grove Cemetery was organized by New Brighton's leading citizens as a nonprofit, nonsectarian burial ground for the community. It was incorporated by an act of the state Legislature in 1859 and dedicated on Oct. 13 of that year.

James McGaw, a North Sewickley Township farmer, was the first person buried in the cemetery on Oct. 20, 1859.

Over the years, Grove became the resting place for leading citizens and historical figures from New Brighton and the surrounding area. Names on the headstones read like a New Brighton history book: Townsend, Merrick, Hoopes, Myers, Miner and Sherwood. The list goes on and on.

The cemetery contains the graves of educators, inventors, leaders of industry and religion, bankers, merchants, former slaves, abolitionists and folks who toiled at hard labor to make ends meet.

A walk along Grove's three miles of tree-lined paths offers an interesting look at the past. Tombstones mark the resting places of such folks as Charles Medley (1871-1959), a former Beaver Falls fire chief and mayor of the city, and his wife, E. Fern Medley (1896-1967), a long-time librarian of the Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls.

The list includes veterans who served in the Revolutionary War and every other conflict that followed, including one of only three Beaver Countians awarded the Medal of Honor by Congress for valor above and beyond the call of duty.

Eight of 14 known black Beaver County soldiers who served during the Civil War are buried in Grove.

"Grove Cemetery is pretty much the history of New Brighton and some of the surrounding area," Barnes said.

Recovery

Cook, 66, planned on working at Grove Cemetery for two years when she agreed to become the manager about eight years ago. She would like to retire but can't so long as the cemetery's fate is undecided.

She is supposed to work three hours each day at a rate of $21 per day, but her days often stretch to eight, 10, and 12 hours.

Over the years, she has taken money from her retirement plan to keep the cemetery running. A room in her office building is filled with office furniture donated by Bayer Corp., Cook's former employer, which Cook plans to sell as a cemetery fundraiser.

"I come from a family where we were brought up with the motto when you start something you finish it," she said. "I have wanted to quit, but I just didn't feel that I could abandon it. I feel responsible to the families, because if I leave what happens?"

Recently, Bob Tracy of Beaver, the retired owner of a local insurance agency, joined Cook in trying to find a solution to the cemetery's problems.

The cemetery is owned by the people who own burial plots and is supposed to be governed by an association headed by an elected board of directors. But the board has shrunk to only three members, less than what the bylaws call for. And those bylaws, created in 1859, are in serious need of updating.

"Those bylaws tell you where to tie your horse, but they don't tell you how to deal with competitors in the monument business," Cook said.

Tracy said the first order of business is electing a new board of directors. To do that, Cook will be sending out proxies this year in letters asking for monetary donations.

Once they have a board in place, the bylaws can be updated and the board can decide how they should raise money.

Tracy said he has approached local business leaders and prominent people who grew up in New Brighton to gauge interest in supporting the cemetery. He hopes to tap them for funds after the new board is in place. The goal is to build a perpetual fund that would pay for maintenance well into the future.

"This is something where there's really a need," Tracy said. "If somebody doesn't step forward, this place might not survive another year, or 10 years. Who knows?"

Bob Bauder can be reached online at bbauder@timesonline.com.

Historic Grove Cemetery

Location: 1750 Valley Ave., New Brighton. The cemetery covers parts of Daugherty and Pulaski townships.

Incorporated: 1859.

Graves: Nearly 17,000.

Memorials: In addition to historic tombstones, the cemetery also contains memorials to New Brighton firemen and veterans of Civil and Spanish American wars and World War I.

Noteworthy Burials

Grove Cemetery contains the graves of some of Beaver County's most historic figures. They include:

·  James Howard Bruin, 1826-1916: Born a slave in Kentucky. Sold at auction three times. Escaped via the Underground Railroad and made his home in Beaver County. Served as a sergeant in Company H of the 45th United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. Married five times and outlived at least four of his wives. His third marriage took place on the steps of the Beaver County Courthouse as part of the county's centennial celebration in 1900. One of the oldest residents of New Brighton when he died at age 90.

·  Milo Adams Townsend, 1816-1877: Noted abolitionist, who also was involved in many other social reform movements of his time. Was active in the Underground Railroad and responsible for bringing abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to New Brighton for speaking engagements.

·  Sara Jane Clarke Lippincott (Grace Greenwood), 1823-1904: Noted American author. One of the first female journalists in America. Covered national politics from Washington, D.C., for the New York Times and was one of the nation's first female European correspondents. Contributed to leading magazines and periodicals of the day. She also authored several books. Her family home, known as White Cottage, still stands next to Christ Episcopal Church on New Brighton's Third Street.

·  David Stanton: 1829-1871: Medical doctor and abolitionist. Active in the Underground Railroad. Served as state auditor general and as a surgeon with the First Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War. Was a cousin of Edwin Stanton, who served as secretary of war under President Lincoln.

·  Roland L. Kenah: 1831-1908: Owner of Standard Specialty and Tube Co. in New Brighton. Influenced development of the collapsible, seamless metal tube used for toothpaste, ointments and other uses.

·  Francis S. Reader: 1842-1928: Newspaper editor and Civil War veteran. Editor and owner of the Beaver Valley News, the first daily newspaper in Beaver County.

·  Joseph Hoopes: Died 1866: Naval veteran of the Civil War. Served aboard the USS Kearsarge, which sank the CSS Alabama off the coast of France in 1864. It is unknown whether Hoopes was aboard the ship during the battle. Died in March 1866 during a yellow fever outbreak on the Kearsarge while sailing off the coast of Africa. He was buried at sea. A monument was erected at Grove Cemetery in his memory.

·  Frank Rolland "Rube" Dessau, 1883-1952: Major League Baseball pitcher, minor-league manager. Played two years in the major leagues, 1907 with the Boston Doves and 1910 for the Brooklyn Superbas. Compiled a 2-4 record and 6.53 earned run average. Managed minor league teams in York and Decatur, Ill. In 1907, hit Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner on the hand with a pitch, knocking him out for the last 12 games of the season. Born in New Galilee.

·  James K. Peirsol, 1843-1927: Awarded the Medal of Honor by Congress for capturing a Confederate battle flag during the Civil War. One of only three Beaver County residents to be awarded the medal.

Sources: Grove Cemetery records and Mark Barnes.

İBeaver County Times Allegheny Times 2007

 

 

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