The question is simple. Where is Lancaster County’s oldest tombstone located? A safe bet would be somewhere near Willow Street or Lampeter.
Extra Credit Question: Was the town of Lampeter named after handicapped tavern keeper Peter Yeordya?
It was here in 1710 that the first settlement in what would eventually become Lancaster County (1729) was established. In fact, the County’s oldest surviving dwelling, the Hans Herr House built in 1719 by Christian and Anna Herr, is just a few miles outside of Willow Street. You can still visit it today.
Tschantz Graveyard 1733
The closest, oldest cemetery is about two miles away. The Tschantz Graveyard dates back to 1733 and is believed to contain the graves of three of these 1710 pioneers: Wendel Bauman (Bowman), Martin Meylin, and Jacob Miller.
The oldest surviving legible tombstone belongs to Miller. He died on April 20, 1739. The English translation of the German script on his tombstone stone reads:
1742. Here lies buried the old Jacob Miller. Born in Germany. He died Apri 20, 1739. When he died, his age was 76 years, 1 month and 3 weeks.
Despite the community being laid out in 1710 and the nearby Tschantz Cemetery being founded in 1733, 14 older tombstones exist elsewhere in Lancaster County. To find them, you have to travel 13 miles south to Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church Graveyard in Drumore Township. Click here to read more about Tschantz Cemetery.
Chestnut Level Cemetery
Interestingly enough, there are two Chestnut Level Cemeteries—old and new. My initial research indicated the winner of the County’s oldest tombstone was in the “new” Chestnut Level Cemetery at 1068 Chestnut Level Rd, Quarryville, PA 17566. Click here for directions.
The grave in question belongs to Elizabeth King, who died February 21, 1732, at the age of 23. Her stone reads, “Here lyeth th(e) body of Elizabeth King who departed this life 21 day of Febu’y 1732 Aged 23.” Hand-carved flowers adorn the top of her stone.
She is buried next to her husband, Robert King, who didn’t die until 1763. To locate Elizabeth King’s grave, walk through the main gate of the cemetery. It will be on your left about ten stones in three rows back. The pin on the map below marks the grave’s exact location.
So I grabbed my camera and made my second 25-minute commute to “old” Chestnut Level Cemetery.
“Old” Chestnut Level Cemetery 1725
“Old” Chestnut Level Cemetery is located on the corner of River Road and Slate Hill Road in Drumore Township. It is enclosed by a three to four foot high stone wall with a thick slate top. The cornerstone on the gate’s left reads, “Chestnut Level Cemetery Founded 1725,” which makes it eight years older than Tschantz Cemetery. On the gate’s right, the words “Wall Rebuilt 1905” are inscribed. Click here for the exact location.
An inventory of the cemetery in 1935 “found 287 tombstones – 98 slate, 172 marble and sandstone, and 17 of the large flat kind.” They claimed that there were more slate markers in this cemetery than in any other that they had visited. Slate has a distinct advance over sandstone or limestone tombstones as it better preserves the engravings.
During my first trip, I had wandered through searching for Elizabeth King’s 1732 tombstone, unsure of its exact location. I photographed several graves from the early 1700s. Below is John Midlton, who died on September 9, 1739 (but still younger than Jacob Miller’s April 1739 Tschantz Cemetery tombstone).
A short distance away is Izabela Moore. She was born in 1665 and died on December 17, 1732. Moore’s grave is about ten months younger than King’s.
Lancaster County’s Oldest Tombstone?
Elizabeth Shaw McPherson possibly claims Lancaster’s oldest headstone. She died on December 17, 1726, at the age of 36. That beats King by six years. Elizabeth is buried with her husband, William McPherson. The couple also shares a tombstone—and here’s the caveat—William didn’t die until October 5, 1783. That’s 51 years after King. You could definitely make the argument that the joint stone replaced Elizabeth McPherson’s original 1726 stone. If that’s the case, then Elizabeth King has the oldest.
What do you think?
To locate Elizabeth McPherson’s grave, walk through the iron gate at the “Old” Chestnut Level Cemetery. It will be on your right in the first row three stones in. The pin on the map below marks her grave’s exact location.
Update February 2021 – Recently the grave of Marie Ferree’s came to my attention. She died on January 1, 1716, and is buried at Carpenters Graveyard in Paradise. The tombstone pictured here is said to be the original. Although not everyone is convinced. Click here to learn more including where it is located.
Could there be older tombstones in Lancaster County? Absolutely. However, it is unlikely they are the original stone (similar to Elizabeth McPherson) or are merely illegible after almost 300 years. If you know of one older, let me know.
Planning Your Visit
Both cemeteries are open to the public from dawn to dusk. If you do visit, keep in mind that you are in a cemetery and should conduct yourself in an appropriate, respectful manner.