Hecktown Cemetery (The Dryland Yard)

A prominent story in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Globe Times newspaper on Monday, August 19, 1974 carried one photograph of a bulldozer in a venerable local cemetery, with the following headline and text:
Tombstones Bulldozed
Tombstones are being bulldozed in a section of the former Dryland Church Cemetery in Hecktown, where a living memorial will be erected in the future.
Harold Fabian, head of the Dryland Graveyard Assn., said that the site, dating back to the 1750s, will be marked by a central monument with a standard placed nearby listing the names of those buried on the grounds.
The graveyard, over a period of time, will be regraded and seeded so as to be “presentable to the rest of the community,” Fabian explained. No graves will be touched, he added.
The Rev. Robert Herman, pastor of the Hecktown Trinity Lutheran Church, commenting on the work being done, said: “The wind gets terrific up there, blowing over the brittle stones and breaking them. A lawnmower couldn’t get through there.”
It is estimated that approximately 50 tons of topsoil will be needed to complete the work.
Fabian stressed that “considerable time will be required before the changeover is completed.” Repairs attempted in the early 1960s were not successful, the Rev. Mr. Herman said earlier.
It was also pointed out that further attempts at repair work would have involved “tremendous costs” that could not be underwritten.
Further research in local newspapers revealed that the bulldozing was the culmination of a series of meetings to discern what to do with headstones in the churchyard that had served this rural Northampton County farming community’s Lutheran and German Reformed congregations since the 1750s. (Dryland Church was a “union church” in which two often-overlapping Lutheran and German Reformed congregations worshipped on alternate Sundays. A small number of such churches are still active. The congregational union at Dryland was dissolved in March of 1965 and there are now separate churches: Dryland United Church of Christ as successor to the Reformed congregation, and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) as successor to the previous Lutheran Church in America congregation.)

In 1899, John Eyerman recorded the epitaphs at Dryland for persons who were born before 1780, noting:

The Dryland Church-Yard is situated at Hecktown in Lower Nazareth township, eight miles W. of Easton. It w as laid out between the years 1760 and 1770. The present Church, a well-built structure adjoining the yard, was erected in the year 1842. The entire property is well-kept. Unfortunately, the inscriptions on some of the older stones have become quite illegible; this is particularly noticeable on the Potsdam sand-stone.—John Eyerman, The Old Grave-Yards of Northampton and Adjacent Counties in the State of Pennsylvania (Easton: Oakhurst House private press), pp. 14-20.

By the early 1970s, enough concern about the condition of the stones had arisen to occasion a piece in the local newspaper of record:
Hecktown Union Graveyard Feeling Effects of Years
The years are beginning to take their toll at the old Union Graveyard in Hecktown.
Headstones and markers “have become dangerous and have fallen into disrepair,” but a move to change it all is being made by the Dryland Graveyard Association, Inc.
A meeting has been called for 6 p.m. Aug. 23 when members of the association have invited interested parties to hear the plans and voice any objections they may have.
“We are interested in getting the graveyard to look the way it should,” William Day, secretary of the association, explained.
“It’s falling apart. What we are trying to do is to beautify the environment.”
“In the one section,” he added, “there are only six flower pots,”—an indication of the number of descendants still around.
More than 1,000 men, women, and children were buried in the nearly five-acre plot behind Trinity Church between 1740 and the 1950s.
There are veterans of the Revolutionary War, the Spanish-American War, the War of 1812, Civil War, World War I … and there are Indians.
Opening of the graveyard predates the organization of the union arrangement between Trinity Lutheran Church and Dryland Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1763.
The Rev. Robert L. Herman, Lutheran pastor, reported that as far back as 1763, however, anyone who paid a nickel a week to the church ($2.60 a year) was entitled to a free grave.
In the early years, Day noted, burials were not confined to any specific row. But from the 1910 period on, they were. “They were really buried all over the place,” he said.
According to the history of the cemetery, if a wife or husband died before he was 45, the survivor could not reserve a space next to the dead spouse. After the age of 45, though, an area was reserved.
Rev. Herman pointed to “an interesting feature about the children’s section, which is closest to the church.”
“There were certain times when four and five children of the same family were buried side by side. They all died in a period of two to five weeks. Apparently an epidemic ran right through the family.”
He said that the marble in the tombstones has been deteriorating over the years.
The proposed plan would involve removal of the headstones, markers and other structures, leveling the ground and replacing all headstones and markers.
(The Morning Call, August 6, 1971)
At the time of this article, one portion of the cemetery looked like this:
Several weeks later, The Morning Call continued its coverage of the deliberations about the cemetery in a repetitive article:
Project Is Unopposed To Restore Graveyard
The Dryland Graveyard Association, Inc., met no opposition to its plans to restore the old Union Cemetery in Hecktown.
Fix of six board members held a two-hour public session has required by law to air proposals on the removal of dangerous conditions at the 231-year-old graveyard.
William Day, association secretary, said the lack of opposition paves the way for restoration, which, it is estimated, will takeover two years.
The problems of the cemetery stem from two major sources—the soft marble formerly used for memorials and the wood and slate used as an overcover for coffins after they were buried.
A representative of the Bath Memorial Co. said soft marble was used for grave markers in the past because stone cutting tools lacked the hard edges of modern tools. The soft marble, over the years, has deteriorated and many markers threaten to fall, thus creating a hazard to visitors, he said.
Granite is now used for memorials because tools have been developed to cut it easily.
The second problem is the deteriorating wood and slate overcovers used to protect coffins underground. These covers have in some instances fallen in, causing depressions in the earth.
Now concrete overcovers are used which eliminate the sinking of the ground.
The restoration proposal involves removing the headstones, markers and other structures, leveling the ground and replacing all headstones.
The association will finance the work from the interest that has accrued to estates willed to the association, Day said.
More than 1,000 men, women, and children were buried in the five-acre site behind Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church between 1740 and the 1950s.
There are veterans of the Revolutionary War, the Spanish-American War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I and some Indians.
The graveyard was opened before the union of Trinity Church and Dryland Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1763.
The two churches maintained the graveyard after their union until 1962 when the union was dissolved. At that time, each church voted to elect three representatives each year to an independent graveyard association.
As far back as 1763, anyone who paid a nickel a week to the church ($2.60 a year) was entitled to a free grave. None of the ground in the perpetual care cemetery is owned by families.
The Morning Call, August 24, 1971, page 13.
I discovered this remarkable—and to my mind unfortunate—story in 2002 during the course of genealogical research using tombstone inscriptions as primary sources. Beginning in 2002, I corresponded with a family friend, the Reverend Richard Druckenbrod (1930-2003) about the possible fate of the stones. (Pastor Druckenbrod had conducted the funerals of my great-grandparents and several other relatives and friends in eastern Pennsylvania over the course of several decades; he knew the local community well, having served as a minister to the Dryland congregation in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and having worked subsequently as president of the Pennsylvania German Society.) He informed me in a letter in 2002 that the stones had all been dumped in a local quarry after they were bulldozed in 1974. He said that there might be a possibility of recovering them if I were able to ascertain in what quarry the stones had been dumped, even at a remove of almost 30 years; his sense was that water may have offered better opportunities for stone preservation than local air would have in view of car exhaust and industrial pollution.
During personal visits in 2003 and 2004, however, I gleaned conflicting information from cemetery caretakers about the fate of the stones: one said that all of the gravestones had been bulldozed into the ground beneath the current landscaped space, and covered over with dirt; another repeated the story that they had been dumped in a local, unnamed quarry. In a subsequent phone conversation with clergy at the church, I was told that the stones had been turned into gravel.
During the 1940s, Eleanor Martin Barba (1893-1966) and Preston Albert Barba (1883-1971) included the Dryland Hecktown stones in their significant Pennsylvania German Tombstones: A Study in Folk Art (Allentown: Schlechter’s for the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society, 1954). The following drawings by Mrs. Barba are the only known depictions of the destroyed gravestones.
Stone for Nicklaus Broder (1706-1776)
Barba and Barba: “The illustration shows the reverse side of Nicklaus Broder’s tombstone. Its architectural lines show the influence of the baroque Georgian style of the period. Traditional themes are shown in more ornate forms. A modified six-point compass star adorns the head of the stone; quarter-suns radiate from the corners of the panel; from a rather clumsy urn emerges a tree of life in asymmetric form with pendent tulip and bursting fruit.” (p. 112)

Untitled 2

Barba and Barba: “The reverse side of Nicholaus Schael’s tombstone. The entire panel is taken up with a boldly executed seven-branched tree of life growing out of an urn containing the water of life. Note again the drooping lower branches—stirb und werde!” (p. 114)

Untitled 3

Stone for Christian Nauman (18 January 1704—28 February 1773)

Barba and Barba: “The illustration shows the reverse side of this interesting tombstone on which traditional motifs are curiously united with unusual insignia. The designer delighted in varying the forms of the sun symbols, both at the foot of the stone and in the lobes of the heart. Out of the heart, typical in form of German peasant art, grows a tree of life culminating in a large blossom, containing within its cup compass, square and broadax. But why? Could these be Masonic emblems? Fortunately we later learned that Christian Nauman was the carpenter of the first church edifice and builder of the wall that enclosed the churchyard.” (p. 128)

Untitled 4

Stone for Simon Koenig (28 April 1795—6 April 1796)

Barba and Barba: “Two radiating suns and a central four-point star are the only adornments on the stone of this infant.”

Untitled 5

Stone for Elisabeth Huber (born 1809).

Barba and Barba: “The only adornment is the familiar heart form of German peasant art, with the tri-branch or dreispross growing from it.” (p. 166)

Untitled 6

Stone for Sara Kufer (16 October 1797—1801).

Barba and Barba: “Little Sara’s tombstone is adorned with two sun-wheels enclosing eight-point stars and surmounted by a heart.” (p. 68)

Untitled 7

Stone for Sara Hertzel (19 June 1771—19 July 1791).

Barba and Barba: “The crowned and winged cherub’s head, still slightly reminiscent of the death’s head, is common property of ecclesiastical art. Confrontal birds, usually doves, are a stock design both in religious and secular folk art. They are seen frequently on illuminated birth and baptismal certificates, as well as on household utensils.” (p. 64)

The stones and several hundred others with them were replaced in 1974 with the following name-board:
name board.jpg


Filed under Genealogy, Northampton County Carver

2 responses to “Hecktown Cemetery (The Dryland Yard)

  1. gail

    This was an unspeakable injustice done to all who rest at this cemetery and their families. Every one of the people that voted on the decision to tear down the tombstones should have been held accountable for doing so. I was told the tombstones were given to the descendants but I doubt very much that happened. And even if true you don’t destroy a cemetery because you don’t want the upkeep and it no longer belongs to the Trinity Lutheran Church.

  2. Oh, my. Thank you for reporting on your investigation of what happened here. I think I inhaled at the first sentence and couldn’t exhale until the end. They certainly had very different ideas about how to ‘maintain’ a historic cemetery in the mid-20th century than we do now, and it’s difficult to think about what was lost.

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