by Mandi Rush
Roughly 200 yards off Stenton Avenue near Paper Mill Road, tucked between the Chestnut Hill Lodge Rehabilitation Center and the properties on Montgomery Avenue, lies an all-but-forgotten historic gem nearly as old as the area’s first settlers.
The Yeakel Cemetery, which borders Chestnut Hill and Springfield Township, is a 268-year-old burial ground that is the final resting place for early area inhabitants and others. Most of these people were Schwenkfelders who sought refuge from religious persecution. Tours of this historic cemetery will be held on Saturday, Sept. 19, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The cemetery has been a longtime interest of Jack Yeakel, Flourtown resident and 10th generation descendant of some of those buried in the cemetery. In 2012, Jack teamed up with curator/archivist of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, Elizabeth Jarvis, and Jerry Heebner, president of the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, to form the Yeakel Cemetery Preservation Committee to protect this rich cultural resource for generations to come. The Springfield Township and Chestnut Hill historical societies have aided the committee in its efforts.
The uniqueness of the cemetery lies not only in its historical roots, but also in its landscape. Remarkably, the context of the cemetery has been preserved, as the setting is still natural and generally undisturbed. A Natural Lands Trust open space property borders the cemetery as well as large parcels of private lands. To visit the site, one must walk along a wooded path, cross a gently flowing stream, allowing visitors to be transported to the past as they approach the plot that is tucked away in the middle of a heavily populated suburb.
The Yeakel Cemetery Committee, later joined by Jim Taylor and Mandi Rush, has taken steps to preserve this exceptional parcel of land. A six-phase preservation plan was drafted, and funds were raised to begin the project. Work to date includes the grading of the land to redirect erosive storm-water, done by S. Vecchione Inc. as well as removal of invasive trees, whose roots threatened historically significant gravestones, completed by Cox & Co. Tree and Landscape Service.
In 2013, a survey of all the stones in the cemetery (nearly 200 in total) was completed by Kreilick Conservation LLC, to designate which are the highest priority for treatment. Conservation of the stones is expected to begin this fall.
The Schwenkfelder Church in northern Montgomery County, owners and responsible stewards of the cemetery for decades, have been an integral part in the preservation plan as full partners who have committed many resources to the preservation effort. Its support, along with generous donations from Bowman Properties and neighbors and friends, have allowed the Yeakel Cemetery Preservation Committee to continue its efforts.
To ensure that this treasured plot will be safe for future generations, the committee will be seeking a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. This nomination will help in the acquisition of a pivotal Pennsylvania Keystone Grant as well as with advance advocacy and preservation efforts.
The Yeakel Cemetery Preservation Committee is hosting the Sept. 19 tour of the cemetery to raise funds for the project. Jack Yeakel will explain the significance of the site from its beginning before the American Revolution to its connection to the landmarks we see today. Admission will be $15. Visitors are encouraged to preregister by calling 215-233-4600. To volunteer, donate, or learn more about the project, please visit yeakelcemetery.com.
Mandi Rush is the development and education coordinator of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society.