Age, vandalism scar North Huntingdon cemetery
Most people do not notice The Old Brush Creek Cemetery along Leger Road in North Huntingdon.
But it's rich with history, and some volunteers fear a combination of age, the elements and vandalism could chip away at the landmark.
Several stones in the cemetery on Leger Road have been upset over the years, and the poor condition of some markers keep maintenance crews away.
The Norwin Historical Society handles maintenance for the cemetery, which is owned by New Hope Presbyterian Church.
The Old Brush Creek Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the region, according to Carl Huszar, president of the Norwin Historical Society.
Although no date is specifically noted, the Brush Creek Presbyterian Cemetery opened before the Brush Creek Presbyterian Church formed in 1784, according the Pennsylvania USGen Archives Website.
The land was sold to Samuel Osborn in 1791, and his son, Archibald Osborn, deeded the cemetery to the Brush Creek Presbyterian Church in 1830.
Approximately 330 bodies are buried in the two-acre cemetery, including soldiers from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and both World Wars, Huszar said.
Over the years, several headstones at the Old Brush Creek Cemetery fell victim to vandalism, while others have toppled and crumbled due to age and inclement weather.
“Since it was incorporated in 1784, there has been some damages caused by age and vandalism that happened, but vandalism hasn't run rampant,” Huszar said.
Fred Lau, a member of New Hope Presbyterian Church, took care of landscaping at the cemetery for several years, starting in the 1970s.
Lau said when volunteers mowed the grass, they would find pieces of headstones on the ground. Those pieces, which were broken beyond repair, were collected and piled near the edge of the cemetery.
During the 1980s, the cemetery was all but abandoned, with volunteers conducting little to no landscaping and maintenance, Huszar said.
Lau, who lives down the road from the cemetery, said the majority of the vandalism in the cemetery happened during that time.
“There were a lot of parties held in the cemetery, maybe 30 years ago, and a lot of the vandalism occurred and some damage was done,” Lau said. “The parties happened most frequently around Halloween.”
North Huntingdon police have not received any complaints about vandalism in the Old Brush Creek Cemetery, according to Chief Andrew Lisiecki.
Without any complaints, it is unlikely police would look for new cases of vandalism, he added.
“The problem we have is that if we don't have a victim, we don't have a crime,” Lisiecki said. “If someone has family members buried in that cemetery, and their property was vandalized, they need to contact us so we can conduct an investigation.”
Lisiecki plans to have officers conduct patrols to check on the cemetery on a regular basis, he said.
The historical society steps in
The Norwin Historical Society formed in 1994, and began maintaining the cemetery in 1995 after striking a deal with New Hope Presbyterian Church, Huszar said.
The organization began sending volunteer crews to the cemetery to mow and landscape on a weekly basis, but encountered several problems, ranging from snakes to deep divots in the ground caused by settling soil, Huszar said.
Eventually, aging volunteers were unable to keep up with the cemetery's landscaping needs, and the historical society hired landscapers, Huszar said.
Huszar declined to name the company, but said the historical society pays them approximately $2,000 per year to mow the cemetery.
Huszar said caring for the cemetery is a daunting task, especially when trimming weeds around the headstones. Some of the oldest stones are made out of sandstone, which could crumble if struck by maintenance equipment, he said.
“We only use the weed whacker a couple times a year to avoid any damage,” Huszar said. “That's the type of damage we cannot repair without losing some of the words on the stone.”
The society only makes plans to cut weeds around the headstones once a year – for the annual Memorial Day ceremonies,. Volunteers carefully maintain the headstones throughout the year, Huszar said.
In addition to landscaping, Huszar said the historical society and New Hope Presbyterian Church keeps records of which headstones have been knocked over and damaged.
The Norwin Historical Society's members plan to continue maintaining the cemetery in hopes of preserving it for future generations.
Society members hope to get the cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but must wait a minimum of 50 years after the final body was buried, Huszar said. The final burial was in 2005, meaning the earliest the cemetery could receive a historic designation from the register is 2055, he added.
In the meantime, the Norwin Historical Society hopes to recruit volunteers to fill in and level several sunken portions of the ground, which makes walking and mowing the cemetery tricky, Huszar said.
“We've been working diligently for 18 years to keep it in the state we found it in, but like a lot of organizations, we're limited by finances and a lack of volunteers,” Huszar said. “There are things that could be done with the cemetery, but since we don't own it, we just work to maintain the status quo.”
Lau, who serves as a liaison between the church and the historical society, said the church doesn't have the money to do significant work on the cemetery.
The society plans to continue raising money to help maintain the cemetery, Huszar said.
“We want to get it back to the way it looked when it was established,” he said. “We hope to make this a nice historical area for the community to study, respect and enjoy.”
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or firstname.lastname@example.org.