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POKE RUN CEMETERY

HISTORY OF THE CEMETERY

Poke Run Church Cemetery is one of the earliest established church cemeteries in Westmoreland County.  The church was formally established on October 18, 1785, but we have no knowledge of when the current location erected the first church building and its adjoining cemetery.  In the first years of the small congregation, it would meet in private homes and burials took place on homestead land.  It is estimated that the first building was built in the 1790’s.  The plot of ground for the church and ‘burying ground’ was from the very center of the farm of Nathaniel McBriar.  At that time, cemetery lots in the cemetery were unknown.  When a member of the congregation died, he or she was entitled to a grave in the adjoining church-yard. Since the early stones were made of sandstone, they crumbled with the years.  Many of these broken stones, instead of being repaired in the years past were hauled away and with them much of the early history of the cemetery.  In 2020, the oldest known grave with an existing stone is that of John Guthrie, who died in March 1797 in the 80th year of his life. His stone is now illegible.

It wasn’t until December 29, 1814 that the 5 acres and 61 perches (160 perches equals 1 acre) of the original plot of land, was deeded to the trustees of Poke Run Congregation.  Although there was no monetary exchange for the land, Mr. McBriar was promised the “the right to use the front door of the church and a right to a designated pew, which at his death, was to go to John Erwin.”  Additionally, he requested that “no buildings were to be built except for religious purposes” and the water from the spring located on this property could be used by the church.

Additional lands were bought over the years as follows:

  • On December 3, 1835, 5 acres and 158 perches were conveyed for the sum of $10.00 from Jesse Miller to Daniel McKown, Treasurer.
  • On October 16, 1894, 3 acres was conveyed for the sum of $300.00 from Jesse Miller.
  • On June 24, 1938, 10 acres and 143 perches was bought from Benjamin and Nancy Rubright for the sum of $2,158.00.

The current land holdings for the church and cemetery includes 25.2625 acres.

INTERESTING CEMETERY FACTS

  • Tradition says there are at least twelve Revolutionary War soldiers buried at Poke Run, but to date only eight graves have been confirmed and located.  They include: 
    • John Adams, Sr. died June 18, 1799
    • James Chambers, Sr. died June 24, 1847 aged 98 years
    • Adam Carnahan died December 7, 1845 aged 72 years
    • John Guthrie died March 1797
    • Charles Harkless died March 11 1830 aged 69 years
    • Nathaniel McBrier died January 18, 1835 aged 87 years
    • William McLaughlin died June 6 1828 aged 88 years
    • Boltster Trout died July 5, 1837, aged 80 years.
  • The grave stone of Robert Storey who died at age 22 on May 19, 1823, has the following inscription which was commented upon by Robert L. Ripley:

Remember friend as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now you soon will be
Prepare yourself to follow me.

  • At the beginning of the year 2020, over two thousand burials have been recorded in the cemetery but less than one thousand five hundred have been documented by Find-a-Grave.

GENEALOGICAL REQUESTS

Due to the early establishment of Poke Run Presbyterian Church, many family historians seeking information about their ancestors have contacted the church looking for their burial sites, birth and death dates, and baptism and marriage records.  Several church volunteers are working to digitalize the cemetery records and we hope to have some of the cemetery records available on our website in the near future.  This is an ongoing project will take several years to complete. 

The following factors are relevant in being able to locate information on your ancestor.

  • No records were kept by the church until 1840 when the fourth pastor of the church, Rev. David Kirkpatrick, recorded the first Session book and began to note the current Communicant members, marriages and baptisms. These were recorded by year only, with no specific dates.
  • It was not until 1950 that a special record keeping system was developed for the cemetery which recorded the specific location of each burial.  Prior to this time, the only records kept for interments were in the member books noted below.
  • Records of interments were noted in the member record books which began in the mid 1800’s.  These did not include the specific location of burials, only whether they were buried at Poke Run or another cemetery, and the death date and burial date. In some cases, only the burial date is listed.
  • Specific cemetery maps including individual graves sites are just now being developed.  All prior maps only included the owner of the four or five grave lots with no details on those buried in each grave.
  • It is suspected that original maps and cemetery records were lost in a fire in the mid 1900’s.
  • Several grave sites never were marked with a gravestone to denote the name of the person buried on the site or the dates of their birth or death.
  • Due to the removal of broken or illegible stones over the years, many grave sites are unknown, particularly in the oldest part of the cemetery. 

For those requesting information on their ancestors, please send a detailed request to pokerun@graced.comcastbiz.net with names and any available birth and death dates on those for whom you need information.  Please keep in mind that your request is passed along to volunteers who will need time to research your request.