Mount Moriah Cemetery, modeled after the New Burying Ground in New Haven, Connecticut, the Pere Lechaise Cemetery outside Paris, and Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia is arguably Pennsylvania’s “Grande Dame” of the 19th Century rural cemetery movement. Seated in both Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, this bucolic hallowed ground was once herald as the largest privately owned, non-sectarian cemetery in Pennsylvania. It was chartered by the State Legislature on March 26, 1855 with an initial purchase of 54 acres, its rolling hills eventually expanded to a reported 380 acres.
Nestled in the recesses of the southwestern edge of the Philadelphia county line and originally stretching across what is now Cobbs Creek Parkway, Mount Moriah Cemetery is unique in that it has two national cemeteries contained within. Mount Moriah’s original lodge and gateway, often referred to as the Old Gatehouse was designed by Stephan Decatur Button (1813 – 1897) in the Norman castellated style. The arched brownstone carriageway once had twin towers overlooking the expansive property. The structure is currently in disrepair due to a fire.
One of the more unique stories about Mount Moriah is that Betsy Ross was buried there; her remains were removed and reburied at the Betsy Ross House for the Philadelphia’s Bicentennial celebrations. However, workers were not able to locate her body or identify her remains and just took some bones they found at the family plot – the likelihood that they are actually hers is slim, so she is probably still buried at Mount Moriah…Assuming they got the correct body when they had it exhumed and moved from its original resting place at the Free Quaker burial grounds in 1856!
One hundred and fifty six years after its incorporation, the Mount Moriah Cemetery ceased operations. The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, originally formed in the late 1990’s, restructured and set its sight on preserving the cemetery. While it is estimated that their efforts have cleared 25% of the brush in the enormous cemetery, the remaining portion is overgrown, a continually changing landscape shaped by the Friends’ war against the weeds.
While most people look at Mount Moriah Cemetery and see the areas where neglect has taken its toll, I am always amazed by how much the Friends of Mount Moriah have done in the few short years that they have been fighting off the underbrush and securing monuments.
If you’re looking to visit, Mount Moriah is typically open to the public during the daytime hours and locked at night. If you’d like to donate to the Friends of Mount Moriah or volunteer to assist their efforts, you can contact them via their website: friendsofmountmoriahcemetery.org/