The History of Black’s Graveyard, Part I (1/14)

BY MARY MARGARET STEWART / January 2014

If we drive west on Chambersburg Street (US 30) at the square in Gettysburg, travel 2.9 miles to Belmont Road, turn right on Belmont Road and proceed .9 mile, we find on our right Black’s Graveyard, one of the oldest cemeteries in Adams County. Located in Cumberland Township, this 1.381 acres mark the area where early Scots Irish settlers began meeting in 1740 to profess their Presbyterian faith. Even before the congregation erected its first church in 1747, a simple building made of logs, the plot of ground designated for burials was being used as a cemetery. This small cemetery was part of a larger plot of land that the congregation claimed.

In May 1765, the congregation was granted a warrant by John Penn, one of the proprietaries of Pennsylvania, for surveying this land. The 1766 survey indicates the church glebe was 157.34 acres located in the Manor of Masque. It also showed a branch of Marsh Creek flowing through the parcel. In 1780, the congregation began worshipping in a stone church built a little to the north of its log building. On Sept. 13, 1787, the church was incorporated as the Upper Presbyterian Congregation of Marsh Creek.

On April 16, 1813, the congregation voted that after June 1st, its place of public worship would be in Gettysburg. The members resolved that “a sufficient wall of Stone with Lime shall be built . . . round the grave yard.” Finally, they authorized the Trustees to sell the meeting house with the land attached thereto “reserving what will be necessary for the use of the burying Ground aforesaid.” The congregation had already sold two parcels of the glebe to pay debts in 1807; they sold the final parcel (about 25 acres) in 1828.

From 1793 to the present day, records indicate the congregation recognized its responsibility to maintain the graveyard; a responsibility felt more keenly at certain times than at others. Periods of active concern occurred during the 1840’s, in 1855, 1861, 1876, 1882. After the establishment of Evergreen Cemetery in 1856, many bodies originally interred in Black’s Graveyard were exhumed and reinterred in Evergreen Cemetery.

After 1882, the graveyard is not mentioned again until 1931 when the Daughters of the American Revolution requested that Black’s burial ground be deeded over to them, for the organization wished to “recondition the ground and have it maintained in a manner befitting its sacred character.” As a result of this letter the church authorized the local office of the W.P.A. to construct a wire fence with wooden posts and a gate around Black’s Graveyard.

In 1964, a letter from Arthur Weiner of the Adams County Historical Society reminded the church of its responsibility for the maintenance of the burial ground and requested the church recondition the graveyard. As a result of the interest and preliminary research of Harriet and Neil Beach and Mary Margaret Stewart and the extensive legal research of Franklin R. Bigham, the members authorized the Trustees in 1966 to spend up to $3,000 in restoring the graveyard, to provide perpetual care, and to accept Attorney Bigham’s offer of a yearly contribution of $300 for five years toward maintenance of the property.

In 1978, after the Session of the Presbyterian Church received an inquiry from a member who wondered whether Black’s Graveyard would be available for burial of the church member, the Trustees realized the church had never secured a deed for Black’s graveyard. Attorneys Franklin R. Bigham and Robert G. Bigham along with Attorney Henry O. Heiser III, representing the Board of Trustees, traced and examined all deeds flowing from the sale of the last parcel of the glebe in 1828, had the cemetery surveyed, had a deed for the cemetery drawn up which the owners of the property adjoining the cemetery signed and then granted to the church in February 1980.

During the years 2000 through 2006, Scott McPherson and Ned Brownley, under the direction of the Trustees, worked diligently to plot the graveyard. After hiring Riley Redding to draft a surveyor’s diagram of the graveyard, they prepared a layout of the graveyard’s lots and guidelines for burials in Black’s Graveyard. Now, members and their families and friends of the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, formerly the Upper Presbyterian Congregation of Marsh Creek, may have their ashes in urns buried in Black’s Graveyard.

Mary Margaret Stewart is a member of the Cumberland Township Historical Society.