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Society seeks to clean up old cemetery

| Thursday, April 25, 2002

The spiked iron fence at the old Tara Hill Cemetery in West Mifflin has trees and weeds growing around it, and vegetation and trash have overtaken the graves. What is left of the remaining headstones is worn and mostly unreadable.

"Cutting the grass is the number one thing," said Jim Hartman, a member of the Homestead and Mifflin Township Historical Society. "The place needs to be maintained."

To do that, members of the historical society have adopted the cemetery on Glencairn Street across from Homeville Elementary School and are trying to rally volunteers to pitch in to clean up the site.

With a little help from volunteers, the historical society hopes to restore a measure of dignity to the old burying ground and conduct a rededication ceremony sometime in early June.

Hartman said he would like not only to have local Catholic priests present to reconsecrate the cemetery, but also someone from the Pittsburgh American Indian Center.

A marker on the cemetery fence that faces Eliza Street reads "Some of the early settlers of West Mifflin are buried here. An unknown number of settlers and Indians lie in unmarked graves within and beyond the fence." And, according to local written history of the township, old maps of the area indicate that it was apparently an Indian burial ground.

"No one knows when that marker was put up," said Hartman, who added that society members are trying to "figure out who has the records on it."

Old maps of the area show the cemetery, but no church, he said. But according to the book "The History of Mifflin Township to West Mifflin Borough," the first chapel for Catholic worship was built on that spot, named Tara Hill, in 1854. The chapel was a small building constructed of red brick.

The last Mass on Tara Hill was celebrated on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1863, Hartman said. The old chapel fell into ruin and was torn down in 1887.

Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society data shows the plot has been called West Cemetery, Tara or Terra Hill Cemetery, Greensprings Catholic Cemetery and Old St. Thomas Cemetery.

Nancy Long, who did the research for the society said the cemetery has been abandoned. But Patrick Sable, business manager for the West Mifflin Area School District, said the small parcel actually belongs to the school district.

"In the past, students have helped clean it up," said Sable, who added that he just recently became aware that the district owned the property. "I would ride past it sometimes and see that it was all cleaned up and I would think that it was nice that folks would do that."

Genealogical society records show that Thomas and Nancy Whitaker West provided the material and labor for the chapel, and Hartman said he has found headstones marked with the West name as well as their relatives named Oldshue.

The oldest date of death he has discovered so far is 1839 and that was on a headstone that was partially broken. Hartman said members of his group would like not only to cut the grass, clean up the cemetery and maintain it, but also to find someone who will donate new fencing.

"This is the original fence," he said. "You can tell how old it is. Trees have grown around the fencework."

If you go


  • What: Next meeting of the Homestead & Mifflin Township Historical Society. Guest speaker will be John J. Righetti, president of the National Carpetho-Rusyn Society.

  • When: 7 p.m. May 14

  • Where: St. John the Baptist Cathedral at the corner of 10th and Dixon streets, Munhall

    How to help


    The Homestead and Mifflin Township Historical Society is seeking volunteers to help clear brush and do maintenance at the old Tara Hill Cemetery across from Homeville Elementary School.

    A cleanup day is slated for 10 a.m. May 4 at the site. Individuals or groups wishing to volunteer for the project should call Jim Hartman at (412) 600-0229.

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