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Ross burial site of Revolutionary War veteran to be left alone by developer

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 6:34 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.

The resting place of a Revolutionary War soldier will be preserved as 300 homes are built around his grave at the former Highland Country Club in Ross.

Developers will not disturb a plot near the 18th hole of the golf course, where historians say German-born Casper Reel, believed to be the first settler of the North Hills, is buried. Reel, a soldier, bookkeeper for Fort Pitt and Ross's first tax collector, died in 1824 at age 82 and was buried on the family farm that became the country club.

“He was a pioneer for that area, so I think it's very appropriate that he be remembered this way,” said Peggy Reel Wheeling, 61, his great-great-great-great-granddaughter.

Limerick Land LLC bought the property on Highland Avenue in 2012. The club closed in 2011.

Developers plan to build townhomes and single-family homes on about 120 acres — the largest developable piece of property left in Ross.

“It was a little disconcerting because we didn't know what was going to happen with the actual site,” said Wheeling, who grew up in Ross in a home built by one of Casper Reel's sons. She now lives 30 miles north of Tampa, Fla.

No building, grading or excavating will be done where a grave marker once stood for Reel, said developer Dan Caste of Limerick Land Partners, a partnership between Caste and Heartland Homes, based in Whitehall.

When the development is complete, the gravesite would be in a greenspace near the intersection of two yet-unbuilt roads.

“We're respecting the family's wishes and preserving the location,” Caste said.

The development's homeowners association will be responsible for maintaining the burial site, he said.

Historians believe Reel is buried with his wife, Elizabeth Wise, a son who died in the War of 1812, another son and his wife, several other children who died young, and a few servants, said John Schalcosky, president of Ross Township Historical Society.

“It's a victory for the historical society; they actually listened to us,” Schalcosky said.

Schalcosky showed developers records from the Department of Veterans Affairs that confirmed Reel and his son, both veterans, are buried on the land.

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

Reel built a cabin that stands in West View and helped found Hiland Presbyterian Church in Ross. A 1904 historical account by Northwestern Historical Association identifies him as the first tax collector and constable north of the Allegheny River.

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

Graveyards near family homes were not uncommon in the 1800s, and probably about 40 burial sites exist along McKnight Road, Schalcosky said.

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

A 1988 book, “Allegheny County, Pa., Revolutionary War Soldiers” by Paul W. Myers, estimated that about 260 Revolutionary War soldiers are buried in the county.

A descendant removed Reel's grave marker because he was afraid it would be lost or damaged. Last year, it was placed in the custody of the Kushkushkee Trail Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which might restore it to its original site.

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

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