By Kaylee Lindenmuth
ASHLAND - Roughly ten area residents came out on Thursday evening to the parish center for St. Charles Borromeo Church, Ashland, to discuss concerns and solutions regarding the overgrown St. Joseph's Cemetery in Girardville.
The cemetery opened in the 1870s, and has been inactive since the 1950s, when the last burial there occurred before St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, Girardville, began using a cemetery in Fountain Springs. St. Joseph's merged into St. Charles Borromeo in 2015.
Dave Williams, a local land surveyor and president of the Valley View Park Association, Valley View, led and moderated the meeting, beginning by telling the gather crowd of a similar restoration project he'd been involved in Schuylkill County's west end, St. Peter and Paul Cemetery near Tower City.
The cemetery was the final resting place for a multitude of miners killed in a mining accident in the area in 1913, according to Williams.
"Nobody was really quite sure where the cemetery was at, even," said Williams. "We found the cemetery, and we started digging into the history and research and what could be done with it... When we found it and went out to the site, there were trees growing, brush growing, there were only nine tombstones left."
Williams said he put together a plan, which was submitted to the Diocese of Allentown, and volunteers mobilized to work on the cemetery, cutting down vegetation and trees.
Then, a group from West Chester University scanned the cemetery with ground penetrating radar to locate gravesites.
Williams then moved on to speak about the Girardville cemetery, noting its condition, size, and lack of parking.
"In my opinion, a plan needs to be written up here about what we can do to refurbish that cemetery, and you need somebody to be a chairman to take charge of that, and start organizing from that point on," said Williams.
Williams added that, in his opinion, the first task which needs to be tackled is to expand parking at the lower end, adding that PennDOT is willing to help however they can.
"You need to be able to at least park a tri-axle in there if you're going to do any cleaning up," said Williams.
"Then, in my opinion, the next step is to take whatever maps you have of the area... 3.1 acres on the side of that hill is overwhelming to clean up," said Williams. "I think you've got to look at it in sections. You've got to just take a section and say 'alright, let's start with this section and see how it goes.'"
According to Williams, neither he nor the Schuylkill County Office of Veterans Affairs were able to find grant money available to refurbish the cemetery.
"It's going to have to be a grassroots (effort), right from within your church," said Williams.
Williams also noted that the safety of the property needs to be confirmed, and the status of whether or not the cemetery had been undermined.
As the public portion opened, Paul Kowalick of Girardville began by thanking the church for looking into the possibility of cleaning up the cemetery. Kowalick maintains the gravesite of Col. Patrick Monoghan, a Civil War veteran and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Rob Krick, Girardville borough councilman and president of the Girardville Historical Society, then noted two clean-up attempts since the 1990s.
The two proposed the idea of beginning by clearing paths through the cemetery, which could open access to gravesites for others to independently clean and take care of their relatives' gravesites.
Krick noted that the top portion of the cemetery isn't as overgrown as the lower portion, though Kowalick noted that the growth this time of year would pose a challenge.
"Robby has a great idea just to say lets open up the paths and see what happens from there," said Kowalick.
"To open up the major paths, so people could get to the top, that could draw a lot of interest because people could find graves, and that would be initiative either for them to come up, or for them to pay somebody (to clean the gravesite)," said Krick.
Kowalick had asked if the church would stop him from cleaning the front portion, as he has in recent years, due to liability concerns, which they noted they would not, and that, since the cemetery is considered a historic site, it's public.
After the meeting, Krick said "I think if the cemetery were cleaned up, I think it would be a draw, rather than a negative on the borough as it seems to be. I think if the cemetery were made viable, and people could go in and find their relatives, and come here and do that, it would be an asset, rather than, like I said, an eyesore, as some people say."