Posts Tagged ‘boiling springs’

I grew up on a rural cul-de-sac, surrounded by farmland. If you leave my father’s house, the first main road you come to is called Old Stonehouse Road. I don’t claim to know which of the aging gray stone farmhouses along its length gave the road its name, but you see enough of them to understand how it might have come about. Old Stonehouse winds down past an alpaca farm, plenty of fields, and the Bricker farm on the corner where my mother used to pick strawberries in the early summer. If you head south, through the tiny village of Allen (better known as Churchtown) that is little more than a crossroads, you come back out into more farm land. Just as Old Stonehouse intersects with State Route 74, on the left hand corner, there is a tall set of trees with a row of tombstones in front of them. The sign says that it’s Bethel Cemetery.

Bethel Cemetery (2)


The years have not been kind to Bethel Cemetery. All of the remaining stones were at some point reset onto a single, long concrete pad. It’s a jumble of headstones and footstones, many re-broken since being set on the concrete. Some of them are barely readable and others are only recognizable as grave markers because of their location.

Bethel Cemetery (3)

Bethel Cemetery (13)

Bethel Cemetery (10)

Rachel (2)

Bethel Cemetery (5)

There are 5 intact, still standing headstones.



Genzel (2)

Hockley (2)


I suspect it is the cemetery’s relative isolation and proximity to the road that has contributed to its deterioration. There is no fence, no wall, and no house close enough to it to keep an eye on it. It’s right along the road, a convenient target for would-be vandals. It clearly hasn’t had a lot of maintenance work done in a long time. But someone cares, as evidenced by the four or five scattered GAR markers and bouquet of flowers that adorned the central marker when I visited.

Bethel Cemetery


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According to the website Today in History, on this date in 1683, the very first German immigrants to what would be the United States arrived in Philadelphia. I don’t have any way to verify that this is true right now, nor confirm the assertion that it was 13 families and they were specifically invited by William Penn, but it gives me an opening to talk about a part of me that is important.

You see, I am the product of those families – I don’t know if I am a literal descendant of anyone who stepped off of the boat on that precise day to blink in the bright sunlight at life in a strange land, but at some point some of my ancestors in Germany made that same choice. They left behind a land they knew for the possibilities that lay across the sea in a place known as Penn’s Woods, or Pennsylvania, and established new communities. Some estimates say that half the residents of Pennsylvania were of German origin or ancestry at the time of the American Revolution, and as of the last census, it was still the mostly commonly noted ethnic origin in the commonwealth.

My paternal grandmother’s family proudly declared their Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, although I can’t say we knew much about it other than the food. No one that I’m aware of speaks the dialect, other than a few phrases that made their way into our consciousness, and even though I don’t know how to convey it here, what I’m reading about how the accent sounds is how my grandmother and her generation spoke. It’s less distinct other than some words and phrases that my parents and I use. I remember very clearly my grandmother saying she would “red up the room” rather than clean it, and I think one of my great aunts informed us at least once that she was going to “outen the lights.” While I’ve been researching this, Mike has informed me that he’s pretty sure “slippy” is not a word in the dictionary that can be used interchangeably with slippery, but in this case I can chalk it up to dialect.

In checking lists of supposedly Pennsylvania Dutch foods, I find there was even more than I was aware of. We sipped not just root beer, but birch beer, while we enjoyed chicken pot pie, chicken corn soup (I have not had a bowl of this since my grandmother died and would love so much to taste it again), pork and sauerkraut, potato cakes, and Lebanon bologna (at least I can get that at the grocery story here). They may not have been my taste, but my grandmother served scrapple, pickled beet eggs with their distinctive purple tint, German potato salad, and apple butter at her table. And for dessert – so many high-fat and often deep-fried options – funnel cakes, fasnachts, apple fritters, shoofly pie, or whoopie pies. No, fastnachts are not just doughnuts.

I just passed a lovely hour writing this blog post, confirming things from my childhood are in many cases part of a wider Pennsylvania Dutch culture and not ONLY my family’s eccentricities.  I have these things in common with a community – 19th century tombstones near my childhood home carry German surnames and are sometimes inscribed in German rather than English.

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