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"Now here I He and all my bones are rotten. If this you see remember me or else I'll be forgotten."
So reads the inscription on the tombstone of a young girl who died in 1836 and is buried in a small cemetery in Raccoon Township.
The interesting early history of Beaver County is reflected in the old cemeteries which dot the countryside, some of which are abandoned and all but forgotten.
Most burials today are in the larger, modern cemeteries, but many small plots remain from the 19th Century. Some are in the churchyards of churches long gone, others are family plots on a hilltop behind the old homestead, where the early generations of many a pioneer family are resting.
Anyone visiting an older cemetery will be shocked by the number of burials of children. Some family markers are flanked by rows of smaller stones, each representing the brief life span of an infant, or a young child.
The grave of a two year old girl named Salenda is adorned by a lamb, carved in white marble. The skill of the stonecutter can still be seen, though his work has been exposed for 120 years.
Equally saddening are the stones of the young wives, taken in their prime, with their first child. (Such as "Nancy, wife of John-died 1851 in her 19th year).
Nature lovers today like to complain about progress and modem technology (as they strip away the natural beauty of our hills) but, no one complains about the advances of medicine that today allows our children to grow to maturity and live full, wholesome lives.
Typically, the old cemeteries are abandoned and forgotten, until someone needs the land for some other use; then they are obliterated and covered over with little thought of the scant, earthly remains of those who were buried there.
Occasionally, a civic group or a Boy Scout troop will rescue an old burial ground, cutting away brush, resetting stones, restoring a simple beauty to the plot, making it presentable for the neighborhood.
In other cases, vandalism and thievery take their toll. For example, the old Baker Cemetery in Center Township has been raided many times over the last 40 years or so, and today, only a few scattered stones remain, from nearly 50.
Interred here are the pioneer George Baker and his family, along with many descendents. The Bakers were among the first few settlers of Beaver County (the very first in what is now Center Township).
They built a fortified log cabin homestead on a ridge overlooking Raccoon Creek, when this region was claimed by Virginia. In the early days of the Revolution, the Bakers, with their five children, were taken captive by the Indians and sold to the British at Fort Detroit.
Well-treated, they were freed after the war, but a dozen years elapsed before they found their way back to their homestead. They found their cabin in ashes, the well full of rubbish, and only an apple tree and a sprawling rose bush to give them the inspiration to rebuild.
Mr. Baker lived to see Pennsylvania's claim to the land recognized, and Beaver County formed, before he died and was buried on a hilltop on his farm.
Today, the Baker cabin site has been completely obliterated by the Beaver Valley Expressway. The hilltop cemetery remains, mute witness to the disrespect and desecration it has endured.
On our visit to the Van Kirk Cemetery in Center Township, near the site of the old VanKirk Lutheran Church, we found bags of garbage strewn among the tombstones.
But, still worse treatment was given several other small burial grounds in the county, where rows of tombstones placed by bereaved loved ones were removed to make room for a cherry orchard, several housing developments, and even a playground!
The last listing of Beaver County cemeteries was done in 1936 as a WPA project, but this enumeration of 125 cemeteries has been found to be inaccurate and incomplete.
These are a few single burials which can still be located around Beaver County. A stone marking the grave of one Mary Cain (wife of John), has been standing along Kane Road since her death in 1872.
A square enclosure of heavy-cut sandstone marks the tomb of John H. Reddick, and early judge of Beaver County. He had expressed a wish to be buried on the line between the two states he loved so well, Pennsylvania and Virginia. When the state line was resurveyed by newly created West Virginia (after the Civil War, the tomb was found to be wholly within Pennsylvania, by approximately 15 feet.)
Our searches through the old cemeteries have yielded a delightful list of girl's names which were completely new to us: Sinthey, Salenda, Madorah, Roxella, Aletha, Verlinda and Isaphene! Of course, there were many traditional names that are more familiar: Mary, Catherine, Elizabeth and Jane.
Many of the old stones were inscribed with scriptures and words of wisdom that reflected the hardships of the day. Unfortunately, most of these inscriptions are no longer legible due to weathering.
Most offer hope of better times: "Soon will the morning come" (in Raccoon Township), and "Serenely shall may ashes lie and wait the summons from on high" (Independence).
Some, however, echo only the frustrations of old age and the inevitable passing, such as this one from Center:
"The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow: for it is soon cut off and we fly away."