Revolutionary War stone markers need replacing in Derry's Old Salem Cemetery
Their names are right out of the 18th century — Uriah, Nathaniel, Zebulon, Moses.
Veterans of the Revolutionary War, their final resting place is the Old Salem Cemetery on Route 982 in Derry Township.
But their names will be lost to history if their gravestones continue to deteriorate. Thirty stone markers that date back to the early 1800s need to be repaired or replaced, said William L. Snyder II, president of the Derry Area Historical Society.
“It's my hope that we can put new stones where the ones that are very worn are,” Snyder said.
The historical society and Old Salem Community Church are collaborating in a project called Adopt a Revolutionary Hero to restore, and in some cases replace, the gravestones so that the names and dates are legible.
At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, both organizations will host the kickoff event Remember Our First Veterans at the church, 6500 Route 982. The event, timed to coincide with Memorial Day weekend, will launch the preservation effort and feature Lisa Hays, executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, as guest speaker.
Organizers hope to raise enough money to place modern granite markers on the grave sites and restore the existing markers, some of which are severely cracked or worn. They estimate that each marker will cost about $700.
“You can see how much the stones have degraded,” Snyder said. “Some of them are incredible for being 200 years old. The detail is spectacular.”
Snyder said the church and historical society have worked together before and that the inspiration for the Adopt a Revolutionary Hero initiative is a Mechanicsburg man. Raymond Schott, 92, recipient of the society's 2012 John Pomeroy Award for Historic Preservation, makes the three-hour drive to Derry almost every weekend to tend to the markers.
“If a 92-year-old man can do that much work for historic preservation, shame on us for not doing more. It's our turn to step up and do something,” Snyder said.
The Old Salem Cemetery is one of the oldest in Southwestern Pennsylvania and contains the remains of some the region's earliest settlers, including Pomeroy, he said. Thirty of them are decorated with American flags and round markers indicating that the deceased served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
“These are the nation's first veterans,” Snyder said. “We owe everything to them. If these things aren't taken care of, they'll be gone forever.”
Snyder, an eighth-grade civics teacher at Greater Latrobe Junior High School, said he also hopes to enlist the help of students, local universities and archaeology enthusiasts. More research is necessary to determine the number of unmarked graves.
“Projects like this can get students to be more civic-minded. Students have the opportunity to earn bonus points if they research these veterans and do a presentation on them,” he said.
Sunday's event at the Derry church will be followed by a nondenominational service at 2:30 p.m.