The years pass. Decades come and go. World, national and state events mold our local landscape. Family farms slowly disappeared beneath the advent of industrialization and urban growth. The farm families either sold their property or simply moved away.
Coal mining quickly became a dominant local industry in the late 19th and early 20th Century. The Berwind White Coal Mining Company developed into a powerful economic force. Berwind White would buy local farms, at a very cheap price, and eventually harvest the coal reserves. The region's population grew dramatically due to the massive immigration influx. The coal companies needed abundant cheap workers. The Cambria-Somerset County Region eventually produced a rich, quality coal supply.
Nestled on the Southern slope of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus, in a somewhat secluded section, is one of Richland Township's largest private cemeteries. The cemetery, by my count, contains nearly 85 graves. Traditional tombstones mark 14 graves. The other graves are marked by fieldstones. Fieldstones are the rocks unearthed by farmers during the plowing process. Farm families often used these flat stones as grave markers. Sometimes the deceased name or initials were carved in the stone. However, most farm families used plain, flat stones to mark graves. The family "historian" would record who was buried where and why. This family "historian" would maintain important events, dates, births, marriages, deaths, etc in the family's history.
I refer to this location as the Baumgardner Cemetery because the Baumgardner family lived here many years. Also, most of those buried here are Baumgardner family members. 6 graves in the rear Southern section are Foust family members. The Foust family may be the original settlers on this particular farm. This article will identify some of the people buried in Baumgardner Cemetery. Right now, we can only identify a small percentage of the individuals buried at this site.
The Baumgardner Cemetery is located above the Berwick Road and above the old Sun Oil Natural Gas pipeline. Foundations, ruins and remnants of the Baumgardner farm house and out buildings are still visible today. These ruins are located just above the natural gas pipeline substation. These ruins are the only structures left from the many farms that once dotted the UPJ Campus grounds. Vegetation, shrubs and trees hide some of the structure remnants.
The Baumgardner Cemetery is accessible several ways. The UPJ Nature Trail eventually reaches an old tram road just above the Baumgardner ruins. Follow this road (which heads toward the gas line substation) and you will find the cemetery on the left just before the steep grassy hill. Be careful, this Nature Trail is in very bad shape.
One can reach the Baumgardner Cemetery by driving the Berwick Road. The Berwick Road is an old Richland Township farm that connects State Route 56 and SR 160. Today, the Berwick road is a picturesque macadam country lane. About a dozen homes, the former Valley View golf course and the old Pritt farm are located on the Berwick Road.
The Baumgardner Cemetery access road is located about " miles from the Berwick Road/SR160 intersection. Directly below the Berwick Road steep hill (on the left) and the entrance to the old Mine 40 strip mine site is an old dirt road. This dirt road leads uphill to the Sun Oil gas line substation. Park here and walk, along the well-worn trail, towards the tree line. A locked gate was recently installed at this location. It is now impossible to drive your vehicle to the old pump station location. The Baumgardner ruins are located directly behind the pump station. The ruins are located just inside the shrub, tree line.
The Baumgardner Cemetery is reached by following the grassy trail up the ridge. At the tree line, the trail becomes a steep hill. Proceed up this hill about 50 yards. The cemetery is located on the right about where the hill levels off. A grassy path leads into the cemetery site. During the late Spring and Summer months this path may partially close shut due to the vegetation. Trees encircle the entire cemetery.
The Baumgardner Cemetery is also accessible back near the UPJ sports field complex. An access road runs past the UPJ baseball and softball fields. The dirt road heads towards a grassy loop section of the UPJ cross-country course. This old road is easy to spot now since the University recently installed a locked gate here. Just walk around the gate. The old road, located at the Southern point of this loop, heads down the ridge. Follow this rocky, rutted trail down to the clearing. The footing is very poor here. This road is not maintained. Water runoff is eroding many trail portions. Some fallen trees are also now blocking the trail.
This is the upper portion of the trail that begins near the gas line substation. Follow the trail to the steep grassy hill. The cemetery is on the left just before the trail slopes down to the lower fields and the gas line region. Look carefully as the path leading into the cemetery is often shielded by vegetation.
The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown acquired this land in 1966. A Wednesday April 6, 1966 Johnstown Tribune-Democrat article "Local College Adds Big Tract To Campus" describes how the land purchase was finalized. Dr. Theodore W. Biddle (the 1966 Johnstown College president) detailed how a $70,000 gift from the Pittsburgh, PA Richard Kink Mellon Foundation was used to purchase this 316-acre tract. The Baumgardner Cemetery was included in this 1966 land purchase.
The University hired John F. Lewis, a Western Pennsylvania Conservancy consultant and a botany professor at California State College, to conduct a detailed study of this land purchase. The Baumgardner Cemetery is not mentioned in this report. The overgrown cemetery probably was just not visible in the enclosed trees.
So, what do we know about the Baumgardner family and this old farm cemetery?
The Baumgardner family is one of Richland Township's oldest families. The Baumgardner name is found in pre-1800 Richland Township records. The Baumgardners were of German ancestry and helped establish the Weaver Mennonite Church.
Richland Township celebrated its Sesquicentennial Anniversary in 1983. The old Windber Era published, from March 18, 1983 to June 5, 1984, a delightful, informative Richland Township history. The Baumgardner family was featured on week 56 in an April 3, 1984 article.
This particular Baumgardner feature illustrates how and why the Baumgardner Cemetery became an isolated, forgotten place. This article "Baumgardner Clan Part Of Richland Township's History" written by James and Lois Siehl describes the attempt by the Richland Township Baumgardner descendants to link a common ancestry with the Scalp Level Baumgardners. Somehow during the early 20th Century, the Baumgardner clan lost track of their ancestral roots. The Baumgardners mentioned in this April 3, 1984 newspaper article were all true relatives.