The past restored St. James Cemetery: Part 2

By on December 23, 2013


CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

My historical story for the month takes us back to the St. James Cemetery in Lititz.

Recently, a check for $2,000 was donated by The American Legion of Lititz to help improve and beautify this graveyard, which lies at the corner of W. Center St. and Pine Alley.

Owned by the Lititz Moravian Congregation, the property dates back to 1744 when George Klein donated part of his land for erecting a cemetery and log church which was dedicated on St. James Day, July 25, 1744. This place served as a union church where persons of many denominations including Reformed, Mennonites, Moravians, and Lutherans could all worship.

As stated in my historical story originally published in the Lititz Record Express on Aug. 8, a major renovation and clean-up took place this past summer, led by concerned Lititz citizen Shawn Houchin. After noticing the state the cemetery was in, he took it upon himself, with the assistance of many community volunteers, to clean the stones, level the ground, clear brush, and plant new grass.

Many Lititz businesses and citizens also stepped forward with donations of materials, labor, or cash; adding to the wonderful spirit of community outreach that Lititz is well known for.

Houchin removed and cleaned a total of 103 tombstones, with another four being discovered, unearthed during renovation.

Additionally, Moravian Archives Committee member Bill Oehme took up the task of deciphering many of the stones that became unreadable over time, using shaving cream as a very surprising yet helpful tool.

Using ground penetrating radar to locate stones that had sunk into the ground, the church’s foundation was also located, and sat exactly where Abraham Reinke Beck said it was in his publication entitled “The Moravian Graveyards of Lititz 1744-1905.” According to Beck, the church sat 200 feet back from the King’s Highway (currently Broad St.).

Leaving nothing to chance, Oehme and Houchin set out one day to see if Beck’s statement was accurate. With tape measure in hand, they proceeded to mark off the length from a corner of the church’s foundation to Broad St. Their findings were exactly what Beck had stated. (200 feet) and further solidified the location of the church.

There was also another foundation that was discovered during the restoration, which many early on thought was the actual location of the church. This area lies at the northwest corner of the graveyard, and is listed as “Leeres Quartier” on an old plot plan of the cemetery. These words can be deciphered as “empty field,” or “empty section.” At least one theory describes this area as possibly being a location where members of the congregation buried non-members of the church, or was it perhaps the final resting place of friendless vagrants? Although no further records of this “building” have been discovered, perhaps one day new information will come to light that will unlock this mystery.

Beck also wrote that there were a total of 181 recorded burials. However, two of those recorded (brothers John George Lecron, age 9; and John Daniel Lecron, age 12), were discovered to have been buried on their father’s farm.

After careful and thorough efforts, a total of 107 stones were actually discovered during the restoration process, with 85 being legible, and 22 being unreadable.

“We feel pretty confident that we found all the stones” stated Oehme.

In 1753, the remaining burial plots in the cemetery were organized in typical Moravian fashion, which were by choirs: children, men, women, married members, single men, and finally single women were all grouped together. Over 60 persons, or one-third of the bodies buried in the cemetery, were infants.

By 1758, with the opening of God’s Acre on the current site of the Moravian cemetery, this graveyard was used less in less. Then, in 1791, the last Moravian burial took place there.

One of the many adults buried there is a gentleman named John Christian Gutjahr, who was laid to rest in 1791. One of his descendants was Charles Goodyear, who discovered the process for the vulcanization of rubber. The rest is history.

When asked what the most rewarding experience was during the entire process, Houchin stated, “The major thing was seeing the Lititz community and local businesses truly come through and support me in the restoration efforts of St. James Cemetery. Secondly, it was having Bill Oehme a part of this restoration project, who spent countless hours in researching and identifying all gravestones that were illegible. They would have not been placed in the correct plot settings if it wasn’t for him.”

Houchin would also like to thank the Moravian Church’s sexton Matt Good, who worked for many hours at the beginning of the restoration process removing the chain-link fence and taking down the trees that were in poor condition.

More CEMETERY, page A4