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Developer to let North Hills pioneer burial site rest in peace

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Aaron McGregor | For the McKnight Journal
John Schalcosky, president of the Ross Township Historical Society, leans on a memorial marker for members of the Reel family, early settlers of the North Hills, at Hiland Presbyterian Church in Ross Township. The Casper Reel mentioned on this marker is the son of the Casper Reel who fought in the Revolutionary War. Despite the marker in the cemetery, he, his father and other family members are thought to be buried on property in Ross that later became the Highland Country Club and is slated to become a housing development.
Ross Township Historical Society
The grave marker for Casper Reel on the grounds of the Highland Country Club in Ross Township is shown in a photograph from the 1960s.
Ross Township Historical Society
Services took place on Memorial Day and Veterans DAy at the Casper Reel grave site on the grounds of the Highland Country Club in Ross Township in the 1960s. The fence and flagpole are no longer there, and the memorial marker was removed for safe-keeping.
Ross Township Historical Society
The Reel family gathers for a reunion in 1905.

Casper Reel crossed the Atlantic, fought his way across Pennsylvania in the Revolutionary War and scuffled with the Native Americans to establish the first homestead in the North Hills, where he was laid to rest near what would become the 18th hole at the former Highland Country Club.

Historians and his descendents would like the German-born veteran to rest in some well-earned peace.

Although 300 homes are slated for construction on the site of the country club in Ross Township, developers have agreed to leave the Reel's grave site untouched.

He died in 1824.

“We're respecting the family's wishes and preserving the location,” said developer Dan Caste of Limerick Land Partners, a partnership between Caste and Heartland Homes, based in Whitehall.

The Highland Country Club property on Highland Avenue was purchased in 2012 after the club closed in 2011.

Developers plan to build town homes and single-family homes on a site that's the largest developable piece of property left in Ross Township.

Development plans have been adjusted so that no building, grading or excavating will be done where a grave marker once stood for Reel, Caste said.

The future homeowners association will be in charge of maintaining the land where Reel is buried, Caste said.

John Schalcosky, president of the Ross Township Historical Society, said historians think Reel is buried with his wife, a son who died in the War of 1812, another son and his wife, several other children who died young and a few servants who worked for the family.

“It was a little disconcerting because we didn't know what was going to happen with the actual site,” said Peggy Reel Wheeling, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Casper Reel, who is happy with the developers' decision.

Wheeling, 61, grew up in Ross and now lives 30 miles north of Tampa, Fla.

“Myself and the historical society are thrilled with the fact that they're going to preserve it,” Schalcosky said.

“It's a victory for the historical society. They actually listened to us.”

About a year and a half ago, Schalcosky said, he found records from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that confirmed that Reel and his son, both veterans, were buried on the land and presented them to developers.

“The developer was never against protecting them,” Schalcosky said.

Reel was the first settler to make a home north of Fort Pitt after the Revolutionary War, he said.

“When you're looking at any history of the North Hills, he's the first name mentioned,” he said.

Reel built a cabin that still stands in West View, helped found Hiland Presbyterian Church in Ross, and was the first tax collector and constable north of the Allegheny River, records show.

Graveyards near family homes were not uncommon in the 1800s, and there probably are about 40 burial sites along McKnight Road, including one that's suspected to be under the Ross Park Mall, Schalcosky said.

“They just didn't have the notoriety that Casper Reel did,” he said.

Through the 1960s, ceremonies occasionally were held at Reel's grave on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day, though the events eventually were discontinued.

Last year, Reel's grave marker disappeared from the Highland site and later was returned by a family member who took it for safekeeping.

The marker is in the custody of a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which might restore it to its original site.

Overall, Wheeling said, her family is happy that the grave site will be left in peace.

“He was a pioneer for that area, so I think it's very appropriate that he be remembered this way,” she said.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. Reach her at kshea@tribweb.com or at 724-772-6353.

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