The Lancaster Cemetery 

Lancaster Cemetery was the first of Lancaster's "rural cemeteries." In 1846 the vestry of the German Reformed Church acquired a ten acre property along the New Holland Turnpike north of the city, and the following year received a charter of incorporation from the state legislature which guaranteed perpetual occupancy of the dead. The cemetery was designed by the Reverend Nathaniel A. Keyes, who apparently laid out the relatively flat grounds using a compass and a ruler.

Among the notable individuals interred in Lancaster Cemetery are Civil War General John Fulton Reynolds, who died on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, and modern artist Charles Demuth.

Lancaster Cemetery has been designated a local historic landmark by the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County.

History of the Lancaster Cemetery

An Address delivered by Thomas B. Barker at the consecration of the cornerstone of the Gateway and Chapel, August 31, 1873

  • images-departments-ams-hobbs-gif

Gateway and Chapel, Lancaster Cemetery
Isaac Hobbs, 1873

As a memorial of the facts and incidents connected with the ground attached to this building, and now endeared and consecrated to many by the memories of those whose mortal remains are resting there, and with whom while living, many of us were united by the ties of kinship and friendship, the Managers of the Lancaster Cemetery have been induced to have prepared a summary of its history; and for the purpose of its preservation, at least for a time, have embraced the present occasion, of depositing a copy of the same in the Corner Stone of the Chapel now about being erected.

In the year eighteen hundred and forty six, the members of the Reformed Church of Lancaster, in consequence of the difficulty to which they were subjected, in finding proper places of sepulture for their deceased members, by reason of the old burial ground attached to the Church being filled up, agitated the question among themselves, as well as among the people generally, of establishing a Cemetery in the City of Lancaster for the burial of the dead, not only of their Church, but all others, and their friends, who might encourage the undertaking. The enterprize soon found favor with all classes, and many expressed their willingness to favor it with their aid, by taking lots. Thus circumstanced, on the 14th December, 1846, the initiatory step was taken by the Consistory of the Reformed Church, (there being then only one church of that denomination in Lancaster) towards accomplishing the object which they then had in view and which consisted in the Consistory adopting the following resolution:

"Resolved, that the [church] buy up ten acres of land on the New Holland Turnpike, within the boundary of the City, now the property of D. Longenecker, be purchased for a grave yard, provided it will suit for the purpose.

A committee was appointed to ascertain the fact. The committee consisted of Messrs. Heinitsh, Cole and Dorwart, The committee on the 21st of December, 1846, reported that the ground indicated would answer the purpose for which it was desired, and Messrs. Long, Metzger, Gast, Cole and Heinitsh were appointed the committee to negotiate with David Longenecker, the owner of the ground, for the purchase of the same; and also to obtain a charter. The labors of the committee resulted in the purchase of the ground, owned by Mr. Longenecker, consisting of nearly ten acres, and on the 8th of March, 1847, an Act of the Legislature was obtained, incorporating Rev. George Glessner (minister), Peter Long, Philip Metzger and David Longenecker (trustees), John Lescher, Christian Gast, Abraham Bitner, Abraham Cole, William Heinitsh and Jacob Fry (elders), and Henry Wilhelm, Wiliam Huppert, Jacob L. Hoffman, Jonathan Dorwart, George Spurrier and Joseph Welshand (deacons) of the German Reformed Congregation of the City of Lancaster, and their successors in office a body corporate to be called the "Lancaster Cemetery." In pursuance of the charter of the Reformed Church of Lancaster, by its Consistory under whose auspices the Cemetery was governed, proceeded to erect buildings, make rules for the regulation of the company, to obtain purchasers for lots, and do such other matters as they deemed necessary and expedient to establish the same. Many of the citizens of Lancaster, without regard to their religious predelictions, appreciating the necessity of the measure about being inaugurated became purchasers of lots, and it was soon discovered that the undertaking met with the approbation of the public generally, who appear to have been admonished by experience, that the old burying grounds attached to the different religious denominations, then in existence in this place, would soon fail to afford sufficient room as a depository for the dead.

In connexion with this statement it is perhaps not improper to state, that the grounds were laid out according to a plan furnished by the lamented Rev. Mr. Keyes, the pastor of the Reformed congregation, and which was suggested, as he afterward stated to some friends, from a burial ground which he had seen in Palestine, in which country he had been for several years previously, laboring as a missionary.

About this time, viz 1849 & 1850, a large number of the lotholders were members of various religious denominations, other than the Reformed Church, and the question was raised, whether it would not be more agreeable to promote the prosperity of the company, so to alter the constitution as to give the control and government to the lotholders, and to give them the power to elect managers in whom should be placed its supervision. The Reformed Church with a commendable liberality readily [illeg.] to those views and agreed upon being refunded what money they had expended in the purchase of the ground and other incidental expenses and securing to the lotholders who then held lots, and which had been purchased from the church, their rights, that they would then surrender their interest in the premises. This proposition of the church being acceded to, a surrender of the old charter was made by a sale to the new company, and by an act of the 26th April, 1850, a charter of incorporation under the same name was granted by the Legislature of this Commonwealth, by which the whole control was given to the lotholders of the cemetery, and John H. Duckman, Benjamin C. Bachman, William Gleim, William Huppert, C. M. Howell, Doctor Charles Herbst, James B. Lane, David Longenecker and A. G. Helfenstein, were created managers until others should be elected. Among the many excellent provisions contained in this charter, is the one which provides, "That no street, alley, road canal or railway shall thereafter be laid out or operated through the land of the cemetery, nor shall the same be taken or used for any other purpose whatever except for sepulture, unless by consent of the Trustees of the Cemetery," thus by the constitution and laws of the state, securing it from all molestation. In a short time after the new corporation went into operation, the fears which were then entertained by some, were soon realized, that the ground would have to be enlarged in order to accommodate all who were desirous of purchasing lots. The corporation accordingly have since their first purchase purchased from different persons, ten acres more of ground, making the area of the whole ground about twenty acres, and it does not require the vision of a prophet to foresee, that this at no distant day will not be sufficient to supply all whom may wish to become purchasers hereafter, and it is to be regretted that there is not now an opportunity of enlarging it. The number of lotholders are now 1,138. Some holders are owners of a number of lots, but those are only counted as one. Number of lots embraced by all the ground 2340. About two thirds of this number have been sold. Number of interments in the cemetery, from June 6th 1848 to August 15, 1873, three thousand and ninety nine. The first interment was made on June 6th 1848, being two children.

During the first year there were interred fifty-five persons. The actual number of persons interred is greater than what appears on the books of the company, as a number of persons belonging to one family, were sometimes brought from older burial grounds, and one name only interred. By way of illustration, John Buch and family. This was occasioned for want of proper data to enter the other names.

The Registry of persons interred, kept by the company and designed to show the names of the persons buried, when born, when buried, the age, and the number of the lot, where the person is buried, and when the proper data of these facts can be obtained, they are always introduced.

The Cemetery is now under the management of nine managers, who are elected by the lotholders, and are selected for three years, three of them being elected annually. The officers consist of a President, Treasurer, Secretary and Superintendent. Most of the ground is planted with rare and choice forest trees and shrubbery. The walks are tastefully laid out; and kept in good order and repair, and are kept open every day for visitors. In mild and warm weather, when vegetation shows vitality and when the trees and shrubbery are covered with their rich foliate, it presents a scene highly picturesque. At those times often are its ways thronged by persons, some brought there to enjoy the pleasure, derived from such a visit, while others prompted by the nobler impulses of the heart, are led by affection to visit the resting place of some dear relative or friend, whose remains are now slumbering there, and there by the hallowed recollections of former events, enjoy the melancholy pleasure, which the reminiscences of former days are calculated to awaken.

The funds for years past, have been managed with the strictest integrity and economy. After paying for all the grounds purchased and all the other expenses to which the corporation has been from time to time subjected. The amount judiciously invested by the managers according to a report made by a committee of their body of the 9th of January, 1873, is twelve thousand four hundred dollars. The amount in the hands of the Treasurer appears to have been $356.33. These investments will however be diminished by reason of the aid which they have agreed to furnish towards the erection of the Chapel and Gateway.

It is supposed that the money already expended by the company, in making walks, &c. and by individual lotholders, in embellishing the resting places of their friends with proper memorials is not less than one hundred thousand dollars. The Chapel and Gateway is contracted to be built for ten thousand dollars.

The Chapel now being erected, is the result of the munificence and public spirit of our late esteemed fellow citizen, Robert McClure, Esq. deceased, who a few years since donated by his will to the corporation, for the purpose of aiding in the erection of a Chapel, the sum of twenty-five hundred dollars. This sum, at that time was considered too small to erect a building worthy of the memory of the donor; and the company not being in a situation to aid in the erection of the structure, deferred the building of it until the present time. The donation in the meantime being carefully husbanded, by being kept at interest, it amounted in April last to five thousand and fifteen dollars and ten cents; this together with nearly five thousand dollars more which the company has agreed to contribute, will, it is supposed, finish the Chapel and Gateway, leading into the ground, both when finished it is expected will not only add to the convenience of the people, but improve the appearance of the ground.

Note: The text is taken from a manuscript in possession of The Lancaster Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The address is unsigned, but Thomas B. Barker is identified as the author in a newspaper account of the ceremony, "Corner-Stone Laid," Lancaster Examiner and Herald, Sept. 3, 1873. A list of officers and directors of the cemetery corporation was appended to the text.

Sept. 12, 1996