Restoration of the 1744 St. James cemetery

By on August 7, 2013


CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

The spirit of community pride was displayed in a very large way recently with the restoration and beautification of the grounds which make up the St. James Graveyard. This plot of land is located at the corner of Pine Lane and West Center streets in Lititz. Approximately 182 souls are said to be buried there.

The beginning of this congregation started with several citizens who were moved by Count Zinzendorf’s preachings in 1742, and decided to organize and call themselves the Warwick (Moravian) Country Congregation. This group was primarily made up of followers of the Reformed and Mennonite denominations. Their place of worship, consecrated on July 25, 1744 (St. James Day), was thus named the St. James Church. Burials began that same year.

In 1759, they united with the Moravians; and by 1763, when the new chapel of the Lititz Moravian Church was completed, the use of St. James Church was used only occasionally for funerals, however, the congregation did continue to use this plot as a burial place until 1791. Additional interments are recorded up to about 1812, and after this date, a few “friendless persons” were laid to rest on these grounds.

In 1889, the trustees of the Moravian Congregation begin a task to renovate the St. James Graveyard removing brush, bramble, planting trees, and repairing the enclosure. The stones were temporarily taken up to level the ground and were then laid back down in straight rows – however, not back in the correct places. After this unfortunate incident, it was said that the locations of the exact sites where the stones belonged were hopelessly lost forever. In 1941, in memory of her husband who served as the church’s sexton for more than 40 years, Mrs. Eugene Kreider led an effort to tidy up the cemetery by clearing debris, adding a chain-link fence, and erecting a monument on the southeast corner of the plot.

Throughout most of its almost 270-year existence, this peaceful place has gone through some troubled times including young children using the sacred stones as bases for their baseball games, as well as portions of it being sectioned off and used as chicken yards by neighbors. More recently, some of the older, unhealthy trees were cut down and the chain link fence removed.

A few months ago, Lititz resident Shawn Houchin, who frequently walks his dog by this cemetery was concerned over the condition of the property, so he created a plan of action and presented it to the Lititz Moravian cemetery committee. Shortly thereafter, the committee approved his proposal.

“I wanted to give respect to the people buried there, and to make the community aware of this cemetery” Houchin stated. “Most people that were born and raised here have no idea this cemetery is even here.”

Sacrificing many hours of his time, Houchin carefully removed each stone to begin the restoration process. Tasks such as grinding stumps, removing roots, and even receiving cash donations from three generous citizens to cover a specialist to use ground penetrating radar to locate tombstones that had sunken into the ground took place.

Using this technology, the St. James Church’s original foundation was discovered, along with a second foundation situated on the southwest corner of the property. Once the church’s foundation was pinpointed, an early plot plan of the cemetery could be oriented correctly to show where many of the stones were originally laid. Finally, a large amount of tombstones can be laid back to their places of origin. Bill Oehme also proved that an inexpensive can of shaving cream and a squeegee aided in deciphering tombstones that were once impossible to read.

Calling on many local businesses, members of the Lititz AMBUCS, and various caring citizens of the community, Houchin organized a work party on Aug. 3 to plant flowers, clear additional roots and weeds, help decipher faded tombstones, and to further beautify the landscape. Genealogists, historians, and residents all eager to help showed up that morning. Dignitaries such as State Senator Mike Brubaker and Lititz Mayor Ron Oettel also took time out of their busy schedules to assist in the efforts, which was especially appreciated.

Kay Wolf of Lititz was one of about 40 persons who volunteered that morning, and explained why she decided to join in the efforts.

“You want to honor those that went before us,” Wolf stated. “It’s history, and you want to keep it for our children to see. Our children can end up learning from it.”

Efforts continue to be underway this week which include painting the fence, leveling the ground, and laying many of the tombstones gently back into place. Work is slated to be finished in the next few days.

Once completed, Lititz’s oldest cemetery will be transformed into one of the most beautiful. It will once again be a special and sacred place where we may gather to pay our respects to those that came before us and helped shape our town. This beautification project is an outstanding example of what one history-minded community member can do when they have a desire to make their town even greater.

Houchin would like to extend special thanks to Shirley Flickinger and the Lititz AMBUCS, as well as Bill Oehme for all of their extra efforts.

He would also like to thank the following donors: Bomberger’s Store; Sauder’s Eggs; Lititz Reserve; Scooter’s Restaurant; Dosie Dough, Bill Flickinger; Wayne Siegrist; Jason Meyer; Bud and Alice Bracken; Bob Derck; Esbenshade’s Greenhouses; Biemesderfer Landscaping; and the many hard working individuals who gave up their Saturday morning to beautify the St. James Cemetery.

More CEMETERY, page A6