Neoclassical Tombstone Art, 1823 - 1838


Two extraordinary tombstones stand in the old Quicktown burying ground in Westfall Township PA.  Weathered grey with the years, the larger rectangular slab of  polished bluestone illustrates the difficulty of carving this dense material.

The engraving is in shallow relief with the design, a series of geometric lines, dividing the face into four sections of neoclassical elements. The first bears a double branched weeping willow - one branch cascades over a coffin, the other over a heart centered in an urn.  A double diamond pattern borders the second section's round medallion,  columns the third, and a leafy vine border fills the last.  

The center medallion is highly unusual for it is totally blank - no name or date of death are inscribed on this tombstone, no epitaph graces the section below the medallion or initials on the matching foot stone. The smaller and less decorative neighboring stone gives no hint for it, too, lacks an inscription honoring the deceased.  

Thomas Wheeler, 1836, Rural Valley Cemetery

Only a few examples of the work of this anonymous stone cutter have been identified in the burying grounds and cemeteries we have visited thus far in the Minisink region.  These include the two blank tombstones at Quicktown in Pike Co. PA, those for Thomas and Hiriam Wheeler in Rural  Valley Cemetery in Cuddebackville NY, and for Naomi and Ezekiel Gumaer at one of the old Peenpack settlement burying grounds, the recently dedicated  Gumaer Cemetery, near Godeffroy NY.   

Bluestone is readily available in the region, extremely dense and difficult to carve but durable and impervious to water. One or more of the neoclassical funerary motifs typical of the colonial and post colonial period are found on each of these tombstones including architectural columns, a weeping willow, a coffin, an ashes urn & heart, rosettes, pinwheels and an hourglass.

Willow, double diamond and coffin for Thomas Wheeler

Hiriam Wheeler, 1837, Rural Valley Cemetery

Columns, willow and urn for Hiriam Wheeler

Another telling detail on the Gumaer & Wheeler tombstones is the calligraphy of  the word Died, where the upper and lower case letters, D & d, are elegantly joined - Gumaers below the word, the Wheelers above. The distinctive script of the abbreviation AE and the numerals 7 & 2  are matched carvings on these stones separated by over a decade in dates.  While difficult to read in the morning light prevailing during our excursion to the Gumaer Cemetery, Ezekiel Gumaer's 1823 tombstone bears a weeping willow over an hourglass and the epitaph, My Glass is Run.

Naomi Gumaer, 1827, Gumaer Cemetery

Thomas Wheeler, Rural Valley Cemetery

Hiriam Wheeler, Rural Valley Cemetery
Ezekiel Gumaer, 1823, Gumaer Cemetery

Three more quite ornate and larger bluestone tablets are found at the Old Westbrookville, aka Clarks, Burying Ground:  Elisha Reeve, 1838, Mary M Griffin, 1839 and Lemuel Clapp, 1848.  Of these only the Reeve stone shares duplicate decorative elements of weeping willow and urn with the Wheeler and Gumaer examples. While the Reeve tombstone is from the same workshop it was, without doubt, inscribed by another carver, perhaps an apprentice or another local stone carver.  (Note the Find A Grave contributor of the Griffin and Clapp photos has chalked the stones without regard to the long term damage this incurs.)

Elisha Reeve, 1838, Clarks Burying Ground (w/ chalk residue)

A 1935 map of the burying ground by H. W. Olsen plots 16 graves and locates the burying ground at that time on the property of Madame Pierce [sic] with the "sexton" listed as the Misses Westbrook. The earliest inscribed marker is that of Cornelius Cox, d. 1826, age 31. The 1933 tombstone survey by the Pike County Daughters of the Union Chapter lists a now missing marker for Leah, wife of Lodewick Dewitt, d. 1859, age 52, and four Jennings and VanInwegen children. 

The PA Land Records Warrantee map for Westfall Township list this tract of 133 acres, which includes the lower portion of present day Cummings Hill Creek, as warranted to Cornelius DeWytt in 1743, surveyed in 1751, and patented as "Petersburg" to Peter Quick in 1787.

The mystery of the blank stones at Quicktown, Westfall, PA remains.  Was this a local carver or were the stones ordered from afar?  Were family funds lacking to complete the work?  Whatever the case generations have passed, an estimated 180 years, and the memory of those buried here is lost forever. 

 Rest in Peace

Bluestone, a form of limestone, is extremely dense, durable and impervious to water.

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extremely dense, durable and impervious to water. Both ma

Read more :
Bluestone, a form of limestone, is extremely dense, durable and impervious to water.

Read more :