GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
For Bruce Reason and Al Terrell, the sight of the cleaned up Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church cemetery on Saturday was a welcome one
EAST WHITELAND >> During a humble autumn afternoon, a small ceremony paid homage to a long since abandoned graveyard housing AfricanAmerican Civil War veterans, and others whose names have been lost to time and erosion.
For Bruce Reason and Al Terrell, the sight of the cleaned up Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church cemetery on Saturday was a welcome one.
Reason, 56, of East Whiteland pointed to one of the legible headstones bearing the name of one African-American Civil War veteran, Joshua Johnson, 1846-1916, and said he was related.
“It feels great,” he said about the site of the cleaned up cemetery. “I waited years for someone to come along (and clean up the graveyard).”
The person who came along and led the clean-up effort was Henderson High School sophomore Luke Phayre.
Phayre, a member of the Willistown Boy Scout Troop 78, had been looking for a project to complete so he could become an Eagle Scout.
And Terrell, himself a former assistant scoutmaster working on rejoining the troop, suggested to Phayre that he clean up the graveyard as his own son, Andrew did almost two decades earlier.
“I thought it was a great thing to do, to honor the soldiers buried here,” Phayre said.
“You couldn’t even see this (gravesite) from the street.”
The gravesite and the ruins of the old church sit alongside North Bacton Hill Road, near where the road intersects with Route 401.
Starting in August, Phayre and other volunteers worked to figure out who technically owns the abandoned property, get permission from the owners, and to clean up the graveyard and crumbling stone church laden with overgrown nature.
His efforts were recognized Wednesday when at 1 p.m., a ceremony led by the commander of the West Chester American Legion Post 134, retired Air Force Capt. Howard Crawford.
The ceremony also served as a way to honor the dead. It included a color guard presentation, gun salute, and memorial prayer.
Members of several different organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Marine Corps League participated in the ceremony. Three East Whiteland police officers were also present.
Phayre said he had help from the West Chester University Veterans Group, the university rugby team, and a university fraternity, as well as his friends to help clean up the gravesite.
But work on the Ebenezer graveyard is not yet complete. Terrell and his family plan to keep working on the gravesite.
“We’re hoping to restore the church,” Terrell said.
Reason hopes the increased attention given to Ebenezer will help add a new perspective to history.
“There’s a lot of rich African-American history here,” Reason said.
Al Terrell salutes the grave of African-American Civil War veteran Joshua Johnson.
Part of the ceremony included a gun salute to honor the dead.