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This photo (and four others below) was taken in 1930 at the Bernhard Adam Cemetery in Reading, PA. The above photo shows the old one room school house which used to stand on the site and was reportedly the oldest meeting house in Reading. This building also served as a funeral chapel. The man in the photo is Harry Ambrose Adams, the great great great grandson of Bernhard Adam, and my grandfather. The photos were taken by my aunt, Emily Elsie Adams.
The above 1930 photo was taken from the inside of the cemetery and shows the one room school house and the tombstones before they were damaged by vandals in the 1960s and 1980s.
This photo shows the main Adam row of tombstones as they appeared in 1930. See immediately below for a similar view in 2001.
This shot was taken in October 2001 and shows the main row of Adam stones 71 years after the above 1930 B&W photo. The man in the photo is my brother, Jim Lasley, 5G grandson of Bernhard Adam. The flag to Jim's left is at the grave of John Adam (1788-1868) whose stone can be seen in better detail below. The same tree in the center of the cemetery is visible in both photos.
These are the two largest Adam tombstones in the cemetery, the graves of John Adam (1788-1868) and his wife Elizabeth Friederick Adam (1799-1875) in another 1930 photograph. John served in the War of 1812 as a private in the 1st regiment, 2nd brigade. These two stones are still present, but are flat against the ground seated in concrete due to damage by vandals. See the photo immediately below showing this stone in 2001.
This is the same John Adam stone as shown in the above B&W photo from 1930, yet this photo was taken in October, 2001. Most of the stones in the cemetery have been seated in concrete in this manner due to vandalism. The flag was placed here by the local VFW post since John was a veteran of the War of 1812.
This final photo from 1930 shows Harry Ambrose Adams standing at the front gate of the cemetery as it appeared in 1930.
|The photo just below was taken at this same spot in August, 2009, and shows Greg Lasley, grandson of Harry A. Adams, standing in almost the same location as the image above. The gate is now metal instead of wood.
The below articles were transcribed from copies of the originals by Greg W. Lasley.
Sunday Eagle Magazine
Sunday, June 21, 1959
Little-Known Cemetery Has a Wealth of History
by Gary L. Trollinger
Eagle Staff Writer
One of Berks County's oldest, least-known and rich in history little plots of ground is going to be without its three devoted self-appointed caretakers one of these days.
And when that happens, nobody seems to know just what'll happen to the place.
The spot (a little over an acre in area) is the Bernhard Adam Cemetery, which sits hidden by high grass and trees on a site overlooking the 1000 block of Old Wyomissing road. It is thought to have been a Welsh burial ground as far back as 300 years ago.
William (Willy) Schwartz and his sister, Ellen, are apparently the last of the descendants of the original Bernhard Adam who are concerned enough about this part of their family heritage to look after the maintenance of the plot.
Schwartz is 66 and his sister is 64. Both are unmarried.
Fred M. Evans, 141 Elm Street, who has about a dozen ancestors buried in the tiny cemetery, helps out with the upkeep of the land, too. But he's 63 and unmarried also.
Schwartz and his sister live together in their old family home at 650 Old Wyomissing Rd. and work an adjacent farm spanning nearly 20 acres. They've been spending two or three days a week working on the upkeep of the cemetery since 1943.
Evans, service officer for the Pennsylvania Department of the American Legion, works during the day in Philadelphia and a couple of nights a week at the Reading's Gregg Post, where he's been service officer for 24 years. This hasn't stopped him from working on the maintenance of the cemetery since 1912, however.
While Schwartz and his sister make their living by farming, their lives have been entwined sentimentally to a much greater degree with the Adam Cemetery, which has been in their family for more than 150 years.
The Schwartz family and relatives have taken care of the plot for many, many years. Schwartz and his sister are the last of the family.
The history of this small rectangular cemetery is a mixture of fact and hearsay, whimsy and legend, record and recollection. Earliest tangible traces are a tombstone dated 1754, a schoolhouse obviously fitted during the colonial period, a record of transfer of deed in 1798.
One of the oldest stories handed down from generation to generation about the cemetery deals with the man buried under the oldest tombstone still standing there, that of a David Lewis, who died in 1754 at the age of 50, according to his grave marker.
Schwartz tells the story related to him by his forebears that the body of Lewis, then a resident of the White House Hotel near the present Reading Brewery site, was found in the Schuylkill River tied in a woman's slip attached to a weight. * (see below)
John Schwartz (1769-1807), one of two War of 1812 veterans buried in the Adam Cemetery also is supposed to have met his end in a strange way. The story goes that he arrived at the Sheep Mill Ferry one night too late to catch the last crossing and slept in a nearby barn. The next morning, he walked out of what he thought was a door, only to find out that it was a chute out of the second story. He broke his neck in the fall according to legend.
Jacob Ringler, one of five Civil War veterans buried in the historic acre, died at the age of 22 in an Army camp near Petersburg, Va., according to the tombstone.
There are nine war veterans buried in the cemetery. The oldest, according to the Berks County Department of Veterans Affairs, is Joshua Evans, a Revolutionary War soldier who died in March 1778. The most recent veteran to be buried there was Joseph H. Schwartz, a Civil War soldier, who died in 1891.
The Veterans Affairs Department is in charge of placing metal markers and American flags on each of the graves on Memorial Day. Evans has been taking care of these matters for many years.
In the Veterans Affairs Department, the Adam Cemetery is listed as "well-kept" by a 1936 listing of local cemeteries prepared by WPA personnel. However, other information on the burial ground is pretty scant even at the Historical Society of Berks County.
Schwartz and other observers believe that the now broken-down and weather-beaten one-room school building adjacent to the cemetery dates back to the mid 1700s. One of the little bits of Americana still remaining in the near-ruins are the long strips of wood that were mounted with hinges on one of the walls and used as desks.
Schwartz says his father and great-grandfather both went to school there and that the building had been rented to Cumru Township for use as a school building for many years prior to that.
"They also used it as a chapel when there was a funeral at the cemetery. When they had a funeral, the children were excused from school for the day," Schwartz recalled.
But if using a school as a funeral chapel might have seemed a bit incongruous in days gone by, the surroundings of the Adam Cemetery have gotten even more so since that time. On one side are the Brookline Manor Apartments and on the other side is the modern Thomas Ford School.
There are an estimated 100 persons buried in the Adam Cemetery, including the man from whom it got its name, Bernhard Adam (1731-1810). According to county records, Caleb and Hannah Jones sold the property to Adam on May 26, 1798, for 60 pounds sterling (about $300 or so at that time). Actually, the property concerned was a 5 1/2 acre tract including the cemetery (then known as "church land").
One of Bernhard Adam's daughters, Rachel, married the aforementioned John Schwartz, who reportedly broke his neck falling out of a barn. "It's been the Schwartzes who've taken care of the cemetery ever since," Schwartz beams proudly.
There are five generations of William and Ellen Schwartz' forebears buried in the cemetery, coming right on down through their father, Thomas H. Schwartz (1860-1951), and mother. The land that was the original 5 1/2 acre tract purchased by Bernhard Adam from Caleb and Hannah Jones is no longer in the family, however -- all except the cemetery, that is. The last of the heirs of Bernhard Adam to own the 4 1/2 acres surrounding the cemetery was Lucy Davis, who died in 1949. Miss Davis' mother was an aunt of William Schwartz' father. The land was sold to Joseph M. Eways, Reading rug dealer, in 1951 and he has since made his home at 1010 Old Wyomissing Rd. in the house formally occupied by Miss Davis and her brother Joseph, who died in 1937.
Eways said the cemetery area had been excepted from the sale to him, along with right-of-way for an access road to the cemetery from Old Wyomissing road.
The city assessor's office said the cemetery land was listed on its records as the "Davis Burial Ground," but that it was tax-exempt and so there was no individual listed to whom tax bills would be sent.
However, a spokesman for the executor of the Davis estate, the Reading Trust Co., said the cemetery had not been included in the Davis estate, although Miss Davis' will had specified that the interest from $900 left in trust should be used for upkeep of the cemetery.
A check with the county recorder of deeds office revealed that there was no record of transfer of deed on the cemetery since the sale of the land to Bernhard Adam. The burial plot and access easement was excepted from the deed when Rachel Adam Schwartz' husband acquired the land from the executor of Bernhard Adam's estate, in April 1852.
But regardless of who is the legal owner of the cemetery land, the years and vandalism have taken a heavy toll on the little burial plot despite the efforts of William and Ellen Schwartz, Fred Evans and their predecessors.
Some $1,500 from the Lucy Davis estate was used to refurbish the wall surrounding the cemetery shortly after her death 10 years ago. At other times, Schwartz has had to spend sizable sums of money out of his own pocket to have tombstones repaired after the grave markers have been split off and knocked over by vandals.
It's partly because of consideration of possible vandalism that the metal gate at the entrance to the cemetery has the letters "ERNHARD ADAM CEMETERY" across its arch. The initial letter "B," fell off some years ago. Schwartz would like to replace it and have all the letters (now badly tarnished) polished back to their original luster.
"What's the use?" he said. "Somebody would steal
them for sure then."
* I was contacted in September, 2014 by Mr. Gary Lewis, 6th G Grandson of David Lewis. According to information from the Lewis family, which is said to have come from the Reading Eagle, July 22, 1871, the method of David's death is: "He had charge of the ferry which crossed the Schuylkill
River where the Lancaster Bridge now stands. He was killed when thrown overboard after the rope was broken."
The Reading Times, Monday, April 28, 1980
Due for restoration, cemetery is vandalized
by Sal Vittolino, Staff Writer
Just as the restoration of the 300-year-old historic Bernhard Adam Cemetery is about to get underway, those who are planning its face lifting have run into more problems.
The cemetery, which overlooks the 1000 block of Old Wyomissing Avenue, but is largely hidden from the road by trees and bushes, has been plagued by vandalism once again.
The last time the cemetery was hard hit by mischievous youths was in 1966, when 41 tombstones - some which date back to 1744 - were overturned. It wasn't until six years later, in October 1972, that the stones in the 90-plot cemetery were uprighted and repaired.
But just two weeks ago, vandals again struck at the old Welsh burial ground, where the remains of some of the state's earliest settlers, one Revolutionary War and five Civil War soldiers are laid to rest. The vandals knocked down a large section of the low stone retaining wall that surrounds the cemetery and toppled over about a dozen tombstones.
Nicholas Talarico, 70, of 924 Parkside Drive, unofficial watchman for the cemetery, said he discovered the damage one day after his wife reported seeing a group of about five youths in their early teens in the cemetery.
The vandalism is a setback for three women who have been planning the restoration of the cemetery for the last five years.
Mrs. Olwen Evans of 1357 Pershing Blvd., is a native of Wales and past president and founder of the Welsh Society of Berks County.
In 1975 she was contacted by Ada F. Duquette of Alexandria, Va., whose ancestor, Joshua Evans, a Revolutionary War soldier, is buried in the cemetery.
The have been assisted by Elizabeth Evans of 46 Shillington Road, Sinking Spring, a retired city school teacher.
According to Mrs. Evans, it will cost about $6,000 just to repair the several dozen toppled headstones - many of which have fallen victim to time - and repair the vandalized wall.
Funds for the restoration project are to come from a 1949 trust fund which was established by Lucy Davis, who died that year. Davis was the last of the heirs of the little-known cemetery's founder, Bernhard Adam.
Not too much is known about this Bernhard Adam of the colonial times except that he lived from 1731 to 1810 and purchased the burial ground in 1798 as part of a 5 1/2 acre land deal for 60 pounds sterling (about $300) in 1798.
The repair of the tombstones and the wall will be phase one of the restoration project, scheduled to begin and end this June, according to Mrs. Evans.
She hopes that in the near future the 225 year old one-room schoolhouse which used to stand on the site - and which is reportedly the oldest meeting house in Reading - will be rebuilt and restored.
Now all that remains of the schoolhouse - which doubled as a chapel for funeral services at the cemetery - is a pile of debris.
Mrs. Evans said she welcomes the help of all persons who are interested in restoring the old schoolhouse.
Among the cemetery's upcoming restorations will be a plaque in the rebuilt schoolhouse noting the site is in the Pennsylvania inventory of Historic places. The plaque also would rename the cemetery the "Welsh Baptist Meeting House and Burial Ground."
The Reading Times, Saturday, May 16, 1981
Vandals wreck old city cemetery again
by Sal Vittolino
For the third time in 15 years, the three-century-old Welsh Bernhard Adam Cemetery, which overlooks the 1000 block of Old Wyomissing Road, has suffered a major desecration at the hands of vandals.
But the latest destruction - during which about 50 of the 90 tombstones were toppled last week - came less than seven months after some $10,000 was spent to repair a dozen burial markers and rebuild a crumpled retaining wall.
And this time, money to repair the damage has just about run out, according to Olwen Evans, a founder of the Welsh Society of Berks County who has helped with the cemetery's upkeep in the past.
Vandalism is nothing new to the small, historic cemetery, in which the remains of Revolutionary War militia man Joshua Evans and five Civil War soldiers are buried.
In 1968, 41 tombstones - some which date back to 1744 - were overturned, and it wasn't until six years later that they were righted and repaired.
Pranksters struck again in April 1980, knocking over a dozen stones, and repairs weren't completed until October.
Now there may not be enough money left in the trust fund established by a Lucy Davis in 1949 to make the latest round of restorations, according to Mrs. Evans, of 1357 Pershing Blvd.
Mrs. Davis was the last of the heirs of Bernhard Adam, the cemetery's founder, who lived from 1731 to 1810 and purchased the land as a burial ground.
"All of that work (on the last repair project) has been in vain," Mrs. Evans, a native of Wales, sighed Friday. Vandals struck despite the presence of a street light that had been put up by Metropolitan Edison last fall, she added.
"Before, when it was dark, we could expect vandalism. But now the light goes on each night, and the cemetery is well lit," she said.
The principal in the trust fund established by Mrs. Davis and administered by American Bank cannot be used for repairs, Mrs. Evans said, "so We'll probably have to wait for enough interest to accumulate before we can do anything."
Mrs. Evans said she does not know the amount of the principal in the trust, only that it cannot be used for repairs.
One alternative being looked into by Mrs. Evans and others who have taken an interest in the small burial ground is the laying of some tombstones in cement foundations so they cannot be toppled again.
"But in any case, we don't have any money left. We'll have to wait before we can do anything," Mrs. Evans said.
More information about the Bernhard Adam Cemetery
I am aware of three different tombstone readings that have
been done in the cemetery. First is a document titled "Tombstone
Inscriptions in Barnhard (sic) Adam Private Burying Ground, formerly
Cumru Township, Now 18th Ward, Reading, Pa." This document
was prepared in ca 1924, but the author is unknown. The original
is in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
in Philadelphia as file number BE/26A. The next reading I am aware
of is from an article titled "The Bernhard Adam Cemetery"
by Amy Styer which was published in the Historical Review of Berks
County in spring, 1980. The third reading is from a publication
"Epitaphs," the handbook of historic family graveyards
in Berks County, Pennsylvania by Jacqueline B. Nein, Joan Texter,
and Cynthia Jimenez. I am not sure of the date of this last publication.
I have copies of each of these articles and would be willing to
share them with interested researchers. The first mentioned reading
has a number of errors and typos, but it has more information
than the latter two since it was made while more of the stones
were readable. The Styer article is largely a reprint of the 1959
newspaper article (above) but with tombstone readings. Many of
these Styer readings are very incomplete since apparently Ms.
Styer conducted her work during one of the periods of vandalism
when stones were toppled over and not readable. It really takes
a combination of all three readings to get a handle on the people
buried in the cemetery.
As stated above, all the material I have available was used in the data for the web site reading of the cemetery posted at:
How to find the Bernhard Adam Cemetery.
I first visited this cemetery in October, 2001. When I returned in August, 2009, I had some trouble finding it, so I thought I would post some information about its location in the event others may be interested. Please note the photo below:
The Bernhard Adam Cemetery is located off the 1000 Blk of Old Wyomissing Road in West Reading, PA. In the photo above, Old Wyomissing Road is at the top of the photo running right to left. The large building in the lower left-hand corner is the Thomas Ford Elementary School, and the large building at the top on the north side of Old Wyomissing Road is the West Reading School of Health Sciences. The cemetery itself is circled in red with a red dotted line leading back to Old Wyomissing Road. This red dotted line runs along an easement, almost an alley, which allows access to the cemetery which is right next to the private house at 1006 Old Wyomissing Road. The easement entrance from Old Wyomissing Road is at Lat/Long 40.3254 -075.9497 in decimel format or at 40 deg 19 min 31 sec and -75 deg 56 min 59 sec in degree/minute format.
The photo below shows the location right next to 1006 Old Wyomissing Road where you may access the cemetery. In ths photo you will see a unility pole with a red marker on it right next to two trash cans. This is the entrance to the alley which leads up the hill to the left about 100 yards to the cemetery. This shot was taken in August, 2009.