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Search for unmarked graves at historic Cumberland Cemetery

Eileen Fresta standing beside a gravesite at the Cumberland Cemetery
Eileen Fresta standing beside a gravesite at the Cumberland Cemetery (Credit: Tina Adamek)
2/24/2012 —

Penn State Brandywine, in conjunction with the West Chester firm Geo-Graf, Inc., will conduct a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey at the historic Cumberland Cemetery in Middletown Township on Tues., March 6.

Penn State Brandywine junior Eileen Fresta, who has been working as an intern at Cumberland Cemetery since the summer, will participate as an observer for the GPR Survey and use the results as part of her senior thesis next academic year. This research is being funded by Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin, through her Jane E. Cooper Campus Faculty Fellowship, to allow Fresta to utilize a geophysical research tool to expand her cemetery investigation.

The survey will be conducted in the oldest portion of the cemetery, sometimes referred to as the “Pratt Burial Ground.” Cumberland Cemetery, a Victorian-era landmark in Middletown Township, is the resting place for many prominent Delaware and Chester County residents.

The cemetery was officially incorporated in 1885 to serve the growing needs of Delaware and Chester Counties. Recently, however, Cumberland discovered records indicating burials taking place in as early as the 1850s. Because the state of Pennsylvania did not require the systematic registration of deaths and burials until the early 1900s, some burial records prior to that time are incomplete and lack an exact burial location within the cemetery.

In addition to locating possible burial sites within the cemetery, the GPR survey may reveal the location of historic grave markers that have been buried over the course of 150 years. In an on-going effort to preserve the rich history of the Middletown Township area, survey results given to Cumberland Cemetery will pinpoint the location of these missing graves and markers. Potential future excavation of these markers will also be considered. A recent test survey conducted by Geo-Graf, Inc. confirmed several 1800s burials in an area that contained no visible headstones.

The GPR survey is a non-invasive and non-destructive investigation that allows the cemetery to be preserved for future generations.

For information about the GPR study, please contact Eileen Fresta, of Penn State Brandywine. She can be reached at efresta@psu.edu or 610-724-4687. The cemetery is located on Route 352 in Middletown Township, directly across from Penn State Brandywine Campus. For more information about the cemetery, please call 610-566-3105 or email info@cumberlandcemetery.com.

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