A glimpse of the past: but for our forefathers…
Op-Ed by Candy Willis l April 12, 2021
But for our forefathers, there would be no Montgomery Township.
Newer residents may not know this but, in the late 20th Century, the population of Montgomery Township exploded when farmers began selling off their land to housing developers and the families just kept coming—looking for good schools in a rural setting where their kids could grow up safe and healthy.
But what of Montgomery before that—in the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries? The most prevalent occupation was farming large self-sufficient farms. Farming families took care of themselves from birth to death—delivering their babies at home; growing their own food; burying their loved ones on the farm in the family burying ground, marking the gravesites with crude cross-etched stones or sometimes with more formal carved headstones.
Careless, ill-conceived subdivisions of land for housing developments have resulted in these small family burying grounds being divided onto multiple properties—several properties away from the farmstead.
What happens to these burying grounds when the descendant caretakers die out?
The Christopher Hoagland (1699 – 1777) Burying Ground is a good example. Christopher Hoagland's house still stands but, because of subdivisions for housing developments, his burial site has been separated off onto another property. Both the house and the burying ground are included in the nationally recognized River Road Rural Historic District. The burying ground became abandoned around 2017 when the last of the family caretakers, a retired Air Force lieutenant general from Virginia, died.
Today, the abandoned Christopher Hoagland Burying Ground is in imminent danger of damage from an exceptionally large hollow tree swaying in the breeze. Local folklore has it that the tree in question is a Lincoln pine, planted on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
Every day that goes by increases the possibility of this enormous tree trunk toppling onto the gravestones.
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Montgomery Township officials deemed family burying grounds important enough to include 27 of them, with location and brief description, in the 1992 Township Master Plan Historic Preservation Plan Element (available at the Montgomery Township Planning Department.)
Current township officials are reluctant to direct the DPW to remove the tree trunk. We don’t understand why.
It is important to know where we are going but it is equally important to know where we have been. Our forefathers’ sacred historic burying grounds must be maintained. Must a GoFundMe site be set up to get this work done? Please contact your local officials to ask that respect be shown to those who came before us by protecting their gravesites from damage.
Candy Willis is chairwoman of the Montgomery Township Landmarks Preservation Commission.