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Developer to let North Hills pioneer burial site rest in peace

Casper Reel was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1742 and settled in Lancaster as a young man before fighting for Pennsylvania in the Revolutionary War.

In 1792, he was paid for his military service with 100 acres in what now is the borough of West View. He was working at Fort Pitt as tanner and storekeeper at the time.

The first time Reel ventured up to the property the government gave him, he was attacked by members of the Seneca tribe, who lived in the area. Reel married Elizabeth Wise in 1784 in Lancaster.

He eventually built a cabin at what now is the corner of Cornell and Center avenues in West View but abandoned it after further attacks and growing hostility between settlers and the Native Americans.

In 1795, he tried again to settle the land and built a cabin on what now is Georgetown Avenue in West View, which still stands.

Reel worked as a trapper and a farmer before becoming the first tax collector and constable north of the Allegheny River.

A few years before his death, Reel built another cabin in Ross on land that later became the Highland Country Club. The cabin at one time served as the administrative office for the club.

When Casper Reel died in 1824, he was the father of 10 surviving children, the owner of more than 800 acres and widely considered the wealthiest man in the area.

John Schalcosky, president of the Ross Township Historical Society, gathered the information about Reel from government records and the 1904 book “Memoirs of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: Personal and Genealogical, Vol. 1” by the Northwestern Historical Association.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

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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