Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Celebrating the Slate Hill Cemetery

This week’s 2023 Community Initiative Award winner spotlight is on the Slate Hill Cemetery in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County.

Lower Makefield’s Slate Hill Cemetery is an intact Colonial-era graveyard that was established in 1690 as a Quaker burial ground and was later expanded to include the township’s first public cemetery. It contains about 580 burials, including veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops who served in the Civil War. The earliest known burial dates to 1698 and the last known burial was in 1918.

Recently, the Township – which is one of Pennsylvania’s Certified Local Governments (CLG) – began an ambitious project to document, preserve, and promote the history of the cemetery.  I asked some of the folks from the Historical Commission, which is spearheading the effort, to share the story with us.

Rounded stone marker with writing set in ground.

The Joseph Sharp marker from 1698 is the oldest documented tombstone in Bucks County. The oldest surviving documented marker in the country is from 1697.

Can you tell me a little bit about Lower Makefield Township?

Lower Makefield Township (LMT) is a township in Bucks County, PA. LMT is located in the Delaware Valley and borders the Delaware River and New Jersey to its north and east. Most addresses in the township have a Yardley address; the township surrounds the borough of Yardley on its north, south, and west.

As of the 2010 Census, the population of LMT was 32,559, not including Yardley Borough. LMT has been a top finisher in the MONEY Magazine and CNN/Money “Best Places to Live” rankings for the Eastern region of the United States in the under 100,000 population category. It consists of suburban neighborhoods highlighted by numerous park and recreational facilities- together with historic properties that frame our heritage and preserved open space and farmland.

Lower Makefield Township has a long and rich history, which is reflected in the cemetery with one of the oldest surviving grave markers in the commonwealth from 1698. Why did the Historical Commission choose to focus on Slate Hill Cemetery?

Unlike other historic structures in the Township, the presence of the cemetery is not obvious, nor is its history.  With its placement on a hill behind a wall with no associated historic building, quite honestly most residents have no idea it’s even there as they drive by.

Black man kneels next to grave marker and tree.

Six US Colored Troops (USCT) veterans are buried at Slate Hill Cemetery. Interpreter Leon Brooks tells the story of William H. Hill, the African American Union Navy veteran buried at Slate Hill Cemetery, and talks about the USCT with visitors.

Slate Hill Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 for its association with events that shaped the township’s history. The condition of the cemetery was deteriorating to the point of it becoming an eye sore.  It resides on a major thoroughfare and is a walkable path between Main St, Yardley, the train station, and numerous neighborhoods.

Looking across a cemetery.

Slate Hill Cemetery in 2012.

Because of this, Slate Hill Cemetery offers a unique opportunity to meet the goals of the Historical Commission which are: preservation, curation and education.

By restoring the markers through cleaning and grant-funded restorations we are able to preserve the space and create a welcoming space for the community.  Through our restoration project, we are eagerly researching every burial we discover to resurrect lost stories of our community, and with these stories we are able to educate the community on our shared history.

There is something magical about Slate Hill Cemetery.  To uncover stories of people who lived right where we spend our daily lives – who built our community! – there’s a genuine joy in making those connections.

One of the things we were excited about with LMT’s Slate Hill Cemetery project is the use of QR codes to educate visitors about the people buried there. Why did LMT opt for this technology rather than more traditional methods like interpretive panels? What will visitors learn through the QR codes?

It’s 2024!! Interactivity is key!  We want to speak to ALL residents – and what better way to connect us than through the Internet.

The QR codes allow us to share the stories online as well as on the grounds, so that those that are not able to visit can still get the same experience.  The QR codes will be a living project that can be easily updated without having to create physical panels.

Image of a marker, QR code, and mobile device screen.

QR code information project.

We are very eager to add mulitmedia to the histories– photos, letters read out loud, story interpretations, etc… It’s these kinds of presentations that get people’s attention and imaginations.

There were a few things we noticed about this project when considering candidates for this year’s awards, such as the creation of a master plan to guide your work and partnering with the local police department. What advice can you give to others who are trying to preserve their local cemetery?

Do not be intimidated by the size of the task.  Start with an assessment of where you currently stand, and then brainstorm where you want to go!!

If the cemetery is in ill repair, focus first on cleaning it up and making it safe (e.g. clear out debris, remove dead trees and limbs, ensure there are no tripping hazards), then start getting into the fun stuff of research & education.

Person in truck bucket at top of large tree in a grassy field.

Removing dangerous tree limbs in the cemetery.

It’s best to make year-based goals– what you plan to achieve within 2 years, 5 years, 10 years… and then break down your dreams into achievable chunks! There are plenty of valuable resources on-line that discuss appropriate preservation for historic cemeteries.  We found information on cleaning grave markers especially helpful for our efforts.

It is key to involve the community.  We have a social media presence where people can follow our preservation efforts, get involved, and be aware of public events on Instagram and Facebook.

We host an annual “clean up day” and invite the public to work with us on preservation. The Township devotes some of our tax money to these efforts so residents should be given opportunities to see and appreciate how that money is being spent.

Are there other organizations, people, or companies you’d like to acknowledge for their contributions to this project and its success?

 At Lower Makefield Township, we’d like to acknowledge:

  • LMT Board of Supervisors, especially John Lewis & Suzanne Blundi
  • David Kratzer Jr. – Township Manager, for being open to any/all of our crazy ideas and giving us the support and direction needed each time
  • Derek Fuller – Director of Public Works, for supporting our efforts to clean out overgrowth
  • Chief Kenneth Coluzzi – LMT Chief of Police, for supporting our efforts to detect unmarked graves with police radar equipment.

We’d also like to acknowledge the 2023 event sponsors for their support:

  • Gather Place
  • Venezia Pizza
  • Keller Williams
  • Dynamix Gymnastics
  • Yardley Haircutters
  • McCaffery’s
  • Hill Wallack
  • Commonplace Reader
  • Elite Cleaners
  • Makefield Agency
  • BAI Security
  • Pro Roofing


1 Comment

  1. Theresa E Barrett

    Kudo’s to everyone who partook in cleaning up this diamond in the rough cemetery. I have driven past this sign for 36 years and wondered how old it was. I plan to take a wander thru the cemetery to see all your hard work and learn more about some old inhabitants . Thank you !

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