Grave concerns expressed by Charleroi Area Historical Society
Part 1 of 2
History, we're told, is where you find it.
Just ask Nikki A.C. Sheppick, chairman of the board of directors of the Charleroi Area Historical Society.
“This area, our entire Mon Valley, is steeped in legacies of the people, places and events that are such an important part of our heritage,” Sheppick said. “Part of our mission is to provide a coherent history of the area, preserve its artifacts, collect its memorabilia and preserve in photographs and writing those who preceded us in so many meaningful ways.”
That effort focuses on what might be considered lesser known – albeit equally important – sites such as the Samuel Frye Family Cemetery in Fallowfield Township.
“Hundreds of people probably travel that road every day and aren't aware of the history that lies less than a mile away,” Sheppick said.
She's referring to Fremont Road (Fifth Street Extension out of Charleroi). The cemetery, a private resting ground that hasn't been in use for many years, is located on the old Frye homestead along a hillside to the west of the Allegheny Power sub-station. It is accessible via a service road behind the power station.
Sheppick is quick to credit the late Harold Ray Frye of Twilight Borough, a longtime member of the Charleroi Area Historical Society, for his commitment to preserving the history of the cemetery.
“Harold dedicated the latter years of his life to being the caretaker of the Frye Family Cemetery,” Sheppick said in an introduction to a feature about Frye for the Washington County PAGenWeb Genealogy Project. “He tended to the graves and land, fully aware of his adopted responsibilities as someone who takes good care of a place or thing ... for keeping it in good repair. Harold took on this duty because it was an important social, community and personal task, one done with thoughtful reverence and respect for our ancestors and other people's ancestors.”
Frye points out in a summary of his activities at the Fallowfield Township site that the private family cemetery began in 1797. There are approximately 54 known burials there but not all of them have headstones.
“To find information in the cemetery turned into quite a big undertaking, just getting tools to the cemetery was a job in itself,” Frye wrote in a paper preserved by the historical society. “The road right of way was overgrown, and I carried the tools in from Fremont Road. Reaching the woods, I had to climb a four-foot embankment as West Penn (Power) had cut a side road along their power line.”
Frye also had to cut live and dead fallen trees and clear underbrush that was polluted with poison ivy.
“This took several trips to get just the main part cleared around the tombstones (most of which were knocked down) so they could be reset to get any information,” he said.
“The stones were reset and cleaned and information (names, dates) recorded as each was done.
“Realizing how much history was in this cemetery and that the excess dirt from the Solomon Fry and Harvey Frey graves was never removed and there might be (more) tombstones there, I could not stop,” Frye wrote. “The infant Colvin, Ohaettie and Isabella Van Voorhis graves were found under the first from Harvey's grave. From the dirt of Sol Frye's grave seven unmarked field stones were found and by their placement, I believe them to be children's graves. Most of the dirt was used to fill in the graves that sank over the years.”
Other graves were found as Frye cleared the rest of the cemetery to the corner stones and by probing with an iron rod.
Frye accomplished his mission with the help of his brother, Vernon Frye, who assisted in clearing the old roadway through the woods and building a tripod to lift and set the fallen stones, and his grandson, Kevin Dishong, who moved much of the dirt while visiting his grandparents. Frye also lauded his wife Jackie, “who has been by my side helping with all of the above and is still helping with the maintenance that I will continue as long as we are able.”
Sheppick said that the cemetery has fallen into “a state of disrepair” again since Frye's death. She said the historical society would “welcome with open arms” anyone willing to volunteer to resume maintenance of the site.
Frye said his interest in genealogy was prompted by a phone call to his wife from Doris Frye Piper of Gallatin, Tenn., in 1988.
“(Piper) said her family came from the Mon Valley and she thought we were related,” Frye recalled. “We kept in touch, but I was too busy to pursue anything at the cemetery because I was still working and preparing for retirement. After retiring in 1989 and getting everything in order, I started looking for ancestors.”
Frye's grandfather, Harvey M. Frye, died 10 years before he was born and his great-grandfather, Samuel Frye III, lived in the Bentleyville area. Armed with that information, Frye began his research.
“I searched all the cemeteries in the Bentleyville area but drew a blank, so I went to Beallsville Cemetery and found his grave,” he said. “I talked with with the caretaker and accessed the information from her book and the gravestones. This gave me information on my great-grandfather. Knowing that the Frye Cemetery on the old Frye farm, now owned by West Penn Power Company, on Fremont Road existed, I decided to go there.”
To avoid any problems with possible trespassing, Frye went to the Washington County Courthouse and found the deed transfer involving sale of the 95.5-feet-by-63.8-feet parcel of land by his grandfather to West Penn Power. He contacted the Mon Valley Division of West Penn Power Co. to let them know of what he wanted to do and obtained their permission.
“Once that matter was clarified and settled, I walked back into the woods and found it completely overgrown and most of the stones down on the ground,” Frye said.
Among the markers at the cemetery are field stones with no writing or dates but believed to be adult graves.
“If reports and stories are true these could be the graves of Samuel Frye Sr.'s brother Abraham and Agnes Ann (Young) Frye, who are said to be buried there,” Frye said.
There also are several unmarked field stones that are believed to be children's graves.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer.
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