A stroll through two of Waverly's historic cemeteries reveals headstones of Revolutionary War veterans, former slaves and early settlers, among others. Whether preserved by vigilant caretakers or salvaged by a congregation, the markers share stories with those who seek them.
On Miller Road, this cemetery has been a final resting place for the dead since 1807. Its 12 acres are lovingly tended by brothers Paul and Bob Webb. The pair has been working the grounds for more than 40 years and they have witnessed much during that time.
"Henry used to call us the encyclopedia," Bob Webb said about his former boss, Henry Belin, the president of the cemetery. The brothers pointed out Belin's gravestone.
"He was a really good man, a good friend," he added.
The Belin family built the Waverly Community House as a gift to the community. Many Belins are laid to rest in the cemetery.
Hickory Grove Cemetery has three entrances from Miller Road. The main entrance is the closest to Carbondale Road. At that entrance are the historic marker signs. Turning in there, one is on the northernmost driveway. Driving all the way back to the woods, one comes to the most northwestern point, an apt start for a walking tour.
In the section furthest back there lies:
* Reverend W. Fletcher Burgette Sr. Burgette passed away in 1974. He descended from Thomas Burgette, who escaped slavery and settled in Waverly. Thomas' last name had been Sumners, but he changed it in Burkettown, Maryland while fleeing his master, to increase his odds of escape.
"The Reverend was a really nice guy," said Paul Webb. "He had a congregation in Scranton and came here often."
* Behind Burgette's grave, in the grassy area bordering the woods is where many escaped slaves are thought to be buried. There are no gravestones, probably due to the people's economic situation at the time.
The second section from the woods is the oldest. There one will find:
* Susanna Hall Stone's grave, the oldest in the cemetery, dated 1807. She was the 20-year -old sister-in-law of John Miller, a settler of Waverly and first pastor of the First Baptist Church, which still stands. When she died, Miller realized there was nowhere to bury Baptist residents, so he donated the land for that purpose.
* The Stone family, early settlers of Waverly, who show their affinity for interesting names on their gravestones. According to the names listed, there was more than one Pardon Stone and she had relatives Welcome Stone and Thankful Stone.
* The Potter family plot, which provides comic relief in their epitaphs: "Husband, Gone but Not Forgotten," states one. And next to it, simply "Wife, Gone."
* The grave of two former slaves, husband and wife. It's easy to locate with its veteran flag. The epitaph on their shared stone states, "Ann Matilda, wife of Edward Smith, died January 1886. Forty years in slavery, now safe in the arms of Jesus." Her husband is decorated as a Civil War veteran.
Bob Webb explained why the stone is difficult to read.
"It's made of marble, which doesn't last. Those made of granite stand the test of time."
It is thought that the grassy area in the same row as the Smiths' stone is where more former slaves are buried in unmarked graves.
The third section from the woods is the second oldest. There is located:
* The designated veterans' area where the flagpole stands. A number of highly decorated veterans are buried there; however, the exclusion of wives and other family makes it less appealing for some as a final resting place.
* The older section for veterans. There can be found the grave of James Stone, Revolutionary War veteran.
* John Phillips, another soldier in the Revolutionary War, has a grave bearing the flag of a veteran. It shows that he was born in 1752 and lived to the ripe old age of 94 years, eight months. He and his family had survived the British massacre of 360 colonial settlers in the Wyoming Valley in 1778. He went on to become a Baptist Deacon, Justice of the Peace for Luzerne county and Waverly settler. His epitaph speaks to his time at war:
Here rests Deacon John Phillips
A Soldier of the revolution
Servant of God, well done
Rest from my loved employ;
The battles fought, the victory won
Enter thy Master's joy.
Hickory Grove is the final resting place to countless prominent families and founding fathers of Waverly.
In addition, there lie at least two victims of murder, one a young nurse shot by her jealous husband in the 1980s and another young woman whose body was found on a beach in 1962.
"That was a big funeral," Paul Webb described. "Among the mourners were several detectives. They watched everyone. I didn't hear if that was ever solved."
Like every other body in the cemetery, they were laid to rest facing east.
The freshest dirt lies over a grave less than two weeks old.
"She was brought in from a funeral home in State College," Bob Webb explained. "The driver of the hearse said he had driven Joe Paterno in that same car."
Coming back into town from the country, there is another historic cemetery, though smaller in size. The Waverly United Methodist Church, bordering the Community House, hosts a small burial ground behind it. Unfortunately, it did not receive the care and maintenance that Hickory Grove did over its nearly 140 years of existence. Some notable headstones:
* Catherine Weidman, born in 1780, who lived through a portion of the Revolutionary War and the entire Civil War.
* Martin Colvin, a 24 -year -old soldier who died during the Civil War.
* George Keyes, an escaped slave, blacksmith and then soldier in the Colored Regiment of the Union Army, whose stone is decorated with the Veterans flag.
"There was a vault in the cemetery," Pastor Barbara Snyder, leader of the congregation for the past five years, said. "It belonged to the founding pastor and his family. The vault fell into disrepair in the 1950s. Neighborhood children were removing bones from it. Parents were finding skulls in their children's bedrooms. At that time, the church trustees voted to demolish the vault.
"They buried the bones and bulldozed the vault," Snyder continued, "At about the same time, the story goes that the then-pastor cleared the whole cemetery, knocked down the stones and threw them over the stone wall."
In recent years the congregation has taken this on as an ongoing project. The stones are raised carefully, in order not to break them, and returned to their original place. Members of the congregation repair and piece them back together with plaster.
"Steve and Hank from Young's Funeral Home have come out to help us. Some of the more fragile, marble stones are difficult to lift. We want to do everything possible to preserve them, to give their final resting place the respect it deserves."
Credit to "Echoes in the Hills" by Anne Davison Lewis for additional background information on the buried.