130-year-old cemetery to be rededicated

July 14, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The nation was on the verge of the Civil War and Jacob Christy, a former slave and Mercersburg resident, watched his three children volunteer to fight.

As members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, they became part of the black unit immortalized in the 1989 film "Glory."

The Christy family is among the more than 30 other black veterans buried in Zion Union Cemetery, which will be rededicated at 2 p.m. Saturday during a celebration of its 130th anniversary. The cemetery has 300 to 400 headstones on approximately five acres, with a belief that many graves are unmarked.

"It was established in 1876, and a lot of (the headstones) are from, I guess, the late 1800s and early 1900s. They either grew up here or in the townships surrounding," said Christopher Frisby, president of the cemetery association.


The cemetery, still used by the community's black residents, has undergone a restoration and improvements process that included repairing dozens of headstones, installing two stone pillars and adding a split-rail fence.

Funds for the projects came primarily from the community in addition to state and county grants.

Local donations have not covered the debt incurred, according to George Nalley, who oversaw that aspect of the finances.

"As of today, I have raised $3,750 toward a $13,000 project, and that's not including everything," Nalley said. Other fundraising efforts he has manned haven't stalled like this, he said.

Nalley said he isn't sure what has hindered the contributions, but in part attributes it to several other organizations asking for money at the same time.

"The town has been picked dry. It's a small community," Nalley said. The two primary contributors have been Mercersburg Academy and the First National Bank of Mercersburg, he said.

Ken Gilland from Gilland Memorials of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., also performed stone restoration services for less than his original quote, Nalley said.

That restoration, started last fall, involved creating new foundations, resetting and sealing the centuries-old headstones. The largest monument, for the Filkills, had an obelisk that laid in the mud for decades and had to be moved by a crane.

"When I came up here and looked at the cemetery, it was in bad shape. It was sad. It was in shambles," Nalley said.

The Mercersburg and Hagerstown Boy Scout troops installed the fence through the Eagle Scout project of Tyler Robinson of Mercersburg.

The cemetery holds several people who came to the Mercersburg area on the Underground Railroad, then volunteered to fight for others' freedom, Nalley and Frisby said.

"They left their jobs, families, homes to go off to war and not know if they were coming back. My hat is off to the people who left this town," Nalley said.

For more information about the cemetery, visit

If you go

What: 130th anniversary Memorial Rededication of Zion Union Cemetery

Where: Cemetery grounds off Bennett Avenue in Mercersburg, Pa.

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, with reception to follow

Featuring music by the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church choir and Ellen Wolf, remarks by a local historian

Photo by Jennifer Fitch

Christopher Frisby, left, and George Nalley stand in the newly restored Zion Union Cemetery, which is celebrating its 130th anniversary with a ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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