Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hice-Pershing Cemetery


I kind of, sort of, accidentally started another small blog this week --- this one devoted to a tiny cemetery along the Conemaugh River in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, that in terms of extended family has parallels to Salem Cemetery in Lucas County's Benton Township.

The blog was born out of frustration. I get involved now and then in research about Hice-Pershing and some of the people buried there, then without any logical way to organize the information lose track of it and end up re-inventing the wheel every time I come back to the topic.

In addition, the cemetery is so obscure and so well-hidden that no one pays much attention to it. An inventory of tombstone inscriptions made during 1939 is available with a couple of photographs at Find A Grave, but that's about it. No one has bothered to photograph the surviving tombstones individually and it seems unlikely that Doris is planning a trip from Chariton to Pennsylvania in order to do that. Nor has anyone invested much time and effort into recording the cemetery's history.

A blog really is a heck of a good way to organize stuff, providing you're willing to take the time to develop and index it. And blogs are for the most part free. Start a Web site and there are regular fees involved in keeping it afloat; fail to pay the bills and it's gone. Blogs, for now at least, just go on and on.

Anyhow, there's nothing worth looking at on the new site now, but it's where I'll deposit information regarding Hice-Pershing from now on.

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Time has not been kind to Hice-Pershing. It apparently started late in the 18th century as a family burial ground for the family of Johan Heinrich Heiss (anglicized John Henry Hice), a veteran of the Revolutionary War, then expanded to welcome the dead from all neighborhood families on both the Indiana and Westmoreland county sides of the Conemaugh.

Daniel Pershing, who married Eliza Hice --- a descendant of John Henry --- eventually added the old Hice farm and cemetery to his holdings, then deeded the graveyard to the public, hence the name Hice-Pershing.

Daniel's grand house once dominated the north shore of the Conemaugh here during the glory days when the old Pennsylvania Canal turned the Conemaugh valley from Johnstown west toward Pittsburgh into one of the nation's major highways.

During the 1920s, a huge coal-fired generating plant was built just upstream toward the tiny town of Seward. That power plant has been rebuilt recently. Later during the 20th century, another huge generating plant was built just downstream, across the Conemaugh from the small town of New Florence.

This wiped out all traces of the north bank's former agricultural use and left Hice-Pershing stranded in a down-sloping scrap of timber along the river, sandwiched between the two power plants. It must have been a lovely setting once; not so much any more. No one has been buried here since the early years of the 20th century. The lower end of the cemetery is vulnerable during high water, too --- the great Johnstown flood of 1889, when a body washed downstream from that Cambria County city was plucked from the river and buried here, and on a couple of occasions since.

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Josiah C. and Margaret (Pershing) Hill were the first members of my extended Myers-Hill family from this neck of the woods to reach Lucas County, during 1856. Margaret was a daughter of Daniel and Eliza (Hice) Pershing. She died at age 50 during 1881 and was buried at Salem. Josiah died during 1886. Most of their eight children scattered. Edgar prospered in Russell, but left no children. Craig died during 1893 and is buried at Ragtown. Margaret's parents and grandparents are buried at Hice-Pershing and, most likely, Josiah's are, too, although the Hill graves are unmarked. 

Another Hill cousin, Gasper Swartzwalter (or Swartzwelter), prospected for Lucas County land during the 1850s, but decided to return to Westmoreland County, where he died during 1871. He is buried at Hice-Pershing, too. His descendants eventually tired of their bulky name and chopped off the last half, emerging as Swartz.

My great-great-grandparents, Jacob and Harriet (Dick) Myers, who had lived just across the river from Hice-Pershing, arrived in Lucas County during 1866, immediately after the Civil War --- perhaps encouraged by Jacob's cousin, Josiah Hill.

Jacob's parents, Abraham and Sarah (Hill) Myers, are buried in unmarked graves at Hice-Pershing along with several of Jacob's siblings, including sister Elizabeth and brother George, both of whom do have tombstones.

It seems likely that Sarah's parents --- Gasper and Phoebe Hill --- are buried in unmarked graves at Hice-Pershing, too.

That last of the Salem contingent to arrive from Pennsylvania was the Henry Selders family. Although not related to either the Myers or the Hills, they had all been neighbors in the New Florence neighborhood of Westmoreland County.

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