The California Area Historical Society is seeking funds to preserve the Old California Cemetery (formerly California Union Cemetery) and the surrounding plots of this ancient burial ground. The immediate problem is preservation of 197 tombstones that are lying loose on the property at Third and Borough Way, in the California Borough, Washington County.
In Crumrine’s History of Washington County, the cemetery is cited as “an ancient burial place which was probably used by the early settlers long before the beginning of this century” (Crumrine, Boyd. History of Washington County, Pennsylvania. L. H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia, 1882). According to a survey of the cemetery, completed by Police Chief James Abercrombie in the 1930’s, the graveyard and noted burials date as far back as 1760 or 1765, although the tombstones markers were rotting away at that time. In the article, a stone for T. T. Huston, dated November 1771, is noted (The California Sentinel, June 10, 1938, front page).
In the 1950’s for ease of maintenance, the tombstones were removed from their original location in the cemetery and placed in a depression near the cemetery. A memorial stone was erected at the entrance to the park area, listing the names of those people thought to be buried there at that time. In subsequent years and to the present day, local citizens and people interested in genealogical research have inquired about the deceased who are buried in the cemetery and have expressed an interest in preserving the historic value of the cemetery as well as the improving the appearance of the property.
In 1995, the California Borough Council granted permission to the California University of Pennsylvania for a graduate student project to excavate the tombstones from the depression for purposes of archaeological study and recording. The results of the study were published in the Masters thesis of Shawn Smiley (Smiley, Shawn. “Archaeological Extraction of Tombstones: The Job Johnson Project. A Final Report Submitted to Dr. Ronald L. Michael in Fulfillment of the Anthropology Practicum.” California University of Pennsylvania, 1995). This study contributed valuable and historic information not previously known about the cemetery and revealed 107 names which had not been recorded on the memorial stone in the 1950’s.
Remarkably, the tombstones, most of them limestone, were fairly well preserved. In 1996, members of the community and the Historical Society sought permission from the Borough Council to preserve the tombstones and surrounding park, and the Society initiated fund raising efforts for this endeavor.
A proposed Site Plan for the preservation project was developed by McDonald Associates in 2001, and is attached to this application in support of the proposed project budget. Future plans, not associated with this grant application, include preservation of the site as a historic burial place, although the preservation and erection of the tombstones should precede that step.
It is believed that T. T. Huston, whose date of death is November 1781, was already buried on the property when the founders of the town submitted an application for incorporation, dated August 25, 1853 (Charter Book Vol 3, page N102, Washington County). The cemetery is not marked on the original draft of the California Borough, formerly situated in East Pike Run Township. However, the cemetery carries plot numbers of 129, 130, 191, 192, 291, 292, 293 and 294 when the document was actually recorded in the courthouse (Plat Book 1, page 29, Washington County, 27 September 1893).
In addition, to Mr. Huston, 25 Civil War soldiers and three soldiers
of the War of 1812, are also interred in the cemetery as documented by
records of the Grand Army of the Republic (Burial Record Book: Names and
Location of graves of Civil War Veterans Belonging to Harry Billingsley
Post No. 168, California, Washington County, Pennsylvania).
Robert Jackman, who in 1784, obtained a patent for a large tract of land
covering California and Greenfield (now Coal Center), died August 26, 1813,
and is buried in the cemetery; as well as Job Johnson, who was instrumental
in the founding of the town and the California University of Pennsylvania,
and who was interred in the cemetery, following his death September 4,
1868. Most of the
dates of deaths as recorded on the memorial stone and in the Smiley study are for the years 1850’s through the 1880’s, with last recorded interment being that of a Martin infant in the mid 1940’s.
Description of Project
The project presented is for the development of a memorial used for
presenting original head stones of a two hundred year
old cemetery. The original plan of the cemetery is comprised of 10 feet by 16 feet grave plots laid out in six blocked
sections, separated by 6 feet wide designated pathways. The concept of the project is to develop the memorial of the
cemetery on one of the six foot pathways, in the least occupied area of the cemetery. The memorial will be constructed of
two 60 feet long concrete retaining walls that will then be veneered with the original head stones. The walls will be
constructed to project from the original finished grade of the cemetery, and arranged 10 feet apart and juxtaposed, to
create a small enclosure. The walls will vary to a height of 7 feet, and be banked on the back side of these walls with a
landscaped earth mound. One will approach the memorial walls along a concrete and brick-paved curved pathway that
leads a person through to the memorial space between the two long walls. The brick paved pathway will curve and
diminish into the direction of the perimeter wooded area from where the original headstones were stockpiled, and disposed
of in the recent past. The contemplation space enclosed between the walls, will have an additional featured memorial
stone, flanked by two benches for resting and reflection.
Additional site improvements for the project will be to develop a small seven car, asphalt-paved parking area, near the entrance to the memorial. The lot will include two spaces available for handicapped parking, with direct access to the pathway. A concrete sidewalk will be constructed to connect the memorial pathway to the main street sidewalk.
Other site improvements will be to provide electrical service and decorative lighting poles within the area of the memorial. The front of the cemetery, aligning main street, currently has five brick landscape piers with concrete caps that previously were anchored with decorative chains and bollards. Small portions of the masonry on these piers will need to be re-grouted, and new chains and bollards will be added between each pier.
Although the site is predominantly a grass covered cemetery site, with large trees throughout, the project will continue to incorporate additional landscaping to further enhance the memorial area. Small decorative fruit trees, along with low maintenance ground cover and shrubbery are to be planted within the design of this memorial site.
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids