The Tindall Family Cemetery is a small burial ground located in the extreme southwestern portion of Shenango Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. This cemetery, located close to West Pittsburg and long since abandoned, is steeped in local history as well as popular folklore.
The original white settler of the land on which it is situated was William Tindall, a New Jersey native who fought in the Revolutionary War of 1775-1783. He reportedly took part in the American victory at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, when forces under General George Washington defeated British troops as they withdrew north from Philadelphia.
After the war Tindall relocated with his wife and four children to southwest Pennsylvania, possibly in Allegheny County. Tindall left his family in 1796 to settle a 400-acre tract of “Donation Land” in what soon became Shenango Township, Beaver County (later part of Lawrence County). Tindall did not own the land, but was settling and clearing it for its owner in exchange for future ownership of a portion of it.
The Donation Land program was used as an inducement for military service during the Revolutionary War. The Pennsylvania government granted large tracts of “uninhabited” land in the western part of the state to veterans who stayed in service throughout the war. A tract could consist of anywhere from 200 to 500 acres based upon rank and they were distributed by a lottery system. To retain ownership the veterans were required to reside on the lands for five years and clear two acres per every 100 acres granted. Very few veterans awarded these tracts actually settled them, most sold them off to land speculators at cheap prices.
The area where Tindall settled was a small part of what became known informally as the “Chew Tract.” The original Donation Land grant was either to Hugh Breckinridge or Alex Addison, and it came under the ownership of Philadelphia-based lawyers Benjamin Chew Sr. (1722-1810) and his son Benjamin Jr. (1758-1844). The Chews, who speculated in land acquisition, snapped up thousands of acres in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (usually under fictitious names) and later sold them off at huge profits. By my calculations the Chews came to own or co-own the whole southern portion of Shenango Township (which included modern day Slippery Rock Township) – twenty-three large tracts totaling 9,200 acres. Altogether the Chews probably owned as much as 30,000 acres throughout the region. They allowed men like Tindall to settle and eventually claim about half of each individual tract, while they later sold off the remainder of the tract at huge profit. Benjamin Chew Jr., known for establishing the nearby village of Chewton in about 1830, died in 1844 and his heirs sold off most of the remaining lands in western Pennsylvania.
Joining Tindall to help out was a teenager named John Connor, who eventually settled on an adjoining tract to the east. Among their “neighbors” was Irish-born William Cairns, possibly the original white settler of Shenango Township who arrived shortly before Tindall. It was probably in late 1799 that Tindall signed an official agreement with the Chews, where if Tindall stayed for five years he would be entitled to about half the tract. Many other settlers in the region signed agreements with the Chews at about the same time including William Cairns, John Connor, John Frew, Nathaniel Hazen, Abel Hennon, Jacob Book, William Cunningham, Robert Davidson, Andrew Wilson, Charles Morrow, and George Allen.
William Tindall and his wife, the former Elizabeth Jordan, had a total of six children, which they raised on the family homestead along what became Sandbank Road.
Tindall was eventually able to purchase a large part of the land he settled. He established an orchard and managed a large farm on his property. He passed away at the age of ninety-one on June 6, 1838. His family buried him on the property where he had made his longtime home. Other family members, including his wife who passed away in November 1852, and eventually close neighbors were subsequently buried next to him. William Tindall’s son Zachariah (or Zechariah) continued to live on the family farm until he died in November 1879. He was buried with his parents and his first wife (Sarah Jones Tindall) at what became known as the Tindall Cemetery – occasionally referred to as the Turkey Hill Cemetery. Additional members of the Tindall family were buried at other locations to include Newport Cemetery and Savannah Cemetery.
After Zachariah Tindall’s death in 1879 I do not believe his descendants lived on the old homestead for too long. The original Tindall farm and surrounding properties – some owned by other Tindall family members – were mostly acquired by the Crescent Portland Cement Company (purchased by Medusa Cement in 1929), which operated the cement plant in nearby Wampum. The southern portion of Shenango Township was rich in mineral deposits, including limestone needed in the cement-making process. By the 1920’s Crescent Cement had extensive mining operations in the area from Chewton to West Pittsburg.
Periodic burials continued at the small cemetery into the early 1900’s. Among the surnames you would find of those interred there are Aiken, Baldwin, Bessell, Black, Book, Connor, Newswonder, Palmer, Shuler, and Tindall. The latest burial I can find was that of eighty-three-year-old Rebecca Connor, a widow who died on October 28, 1915. Estimates vary but it is believed that between 35-50 people were eventually interred at the location. Included among there are veterans of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.
The rural cemetery was neglected as indicated in this article appearing in the New Castle News of Monday, October 5, 1931: “Boys of the West Pittsburg troop 1, as a good turn measure, have launched their program for improving the old Tindall cemetery, located outside of West Pittsburg. For some time the grounds have become deserted, but the town troop plans to give it constant attention.” I’m sure how long this initiative went on, but the cemetery was basically neglected over the ensuing decades.
The cemetery came back into prominence beginning in 1962 when the extensive limestone mining operations began to threaten the cemetery. Local residents and a few relatives of those buried there petitioned Medusa and the Shenango Township supervisors to start doing more to maintain the cemetery. In October 1962 members of Boy Scout Troop 46 from Shenango Township began a voluntary effort to clean up the cemetery by cutting weeds and brush, picking up scattered debris, and replacing several toppled over tombstones. A ceremony, which included members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), to honor the military veterans was held at the cemetery on Tuesday, October 30, 1962.
Unfortunately, the publicity resulting from these events led to numerous curiosity seekers visiting the long-forgotten site in the coming years. Teenagers began hanging out at the site at night and desecrating the cemetery. Stones were knocked over, thrown into nearby swamps, or cracked beyond repair. Beer cans and bottles were discarded throughout the area. Worse yet several of the graves were dug up and the remains apparently scattered.
What really brought thrill seekers to the site was the legend of Mary Black, a local woman buried at the cemetery who was purported to be a witch of some sort. Mary, born as Mary Johnston in Ireland in 1801, married Andrew Black in c1831 and they came to the United States about a year later. They settled in what became Shenango Township and had nine children together. Andrew passed away in 1861 and was buried in the Tindall Cemetery. A widowed Mary lived on for many years until she died at the age of eighty-seven on March 20, 1888. She was also buried at the cemetery.
In the early 1960’s a local man and engaging storyteller named Harry Stein (1903-1980), known more popularly as Harry the Hermit, began spinning entertaining yarns about how Mary Black was a witch and haunted the cemetery. Young people flocked to hear Stein’s stories, but also to visit the cemetery where they caused considerable damage over the years. Police and township officials fought a losing battle to keep people away.
The Boy Scouts of Shenango Township made cleaning up the cemetery an annual project, at least up until the mid-1970’s. By that time several families had undertaken efforts to remove their loved ones’ remains (and there gravestones) from the cemetery. Among those remains removed were those of the cemetery’s namesake William Tindall, who was spared further indignity and reinterred at Savannah Cemetery. His wife’s stone was previously missing and sadly I’m not sure if anyone knows what became of her remains.
Since the 1970’s the cemetery has been outright abandoned and completely open for idiotic vandals. The fate of Mary Black’s gravesite is pretty much what became of the whole cemetery. Because stories reported that Mary Black was buried with expensive jewelry her grave was dug up and her remains were scattered. Her gravestone was also stolen. It was later found discarded in a nearby swamp in the 1990’s and given to the Lawrence County Historical Society for safekeeping.
Medusa was merged into Southdown Inc. in June 1998, which was then purchased by the Mexican cement manufacturer CEMEX in November 2000. That acquisition made CEMEX the largest cement manufacturer in North America. Limestone mining operations continued in earnest to the north of Chewton and as of 2005 the company owned 6,400 acres of property in the area. A large mining operation continues to encroach upon the cemetery and it’s conceivable that it could be buried in runoff stone and debris one day.
Today, not much remains of the secluded cemetery, which sits in a wetlands area and is not easily accessible. The site is located in a valley flanked by a two huge hills being mined for limestone. It essentially sits on “an island” or small plateau surrounded by two small streams, a classic looking swamp, and a large water-filled quarry or large pond. I believe portions of it may be underwater now. Only remnants of a few stones are visible strewn about the thick, thorny underbrush or in the surrounding shallow waters. Several deep depressions indicate where graves have been dug up over the years. Beer cans and cigarette butts can be found bunched in several areas. It truly is a sad sight to behold.
To read an obituary for Rebecca Connor, who was interred in the cemetery in 1915, click on: REBECCA CONNOR OBITUARY.
A wooden bird house is spotted as you make your way through the rough area. (Mar 2013)
Getting to the secluded cemetery site requires wading across a few small streams. (Mar 2013)
It’s a short walk but rough country is encountered. (Mar 2013)
Marshlands dominate the area. (Mar 2013)
The cemetery is located on the other end of this swamp. (Mar 2013)
The Aiken stone (or base) can be seen as you approach the plateau upon which sits the cemetery. (Mar 2013)
The base of the Aiken stone. The tall pillar portion is long since missing. I believe several members of the Aiken family were buried around this stone beginning in the 1860’s. You can see where shameless vandals have dug up a grave. (Mar 2013) Full Size
The base of the Aiken stone. Sadly this is one of the most prominent features left in the abandoned burial ground. (Mar 2013)
A stone can be seen laying in the water. (May 2013) Full Size
Another view of the Baldwin stone. I’m doubting this stone was tossed into the water. It’s more likely that the water has just encroached upon the cemetery over the years. I’m guessing there are a handful of other stones submerged beneath the swamps. (Mar 2013) Full Size
Another base with its stone missing. (Mar 2013)
Another base. (Mar 2013)
The small stream that borders the northern portion of the cemetery. (Mar 2013) Full Size
A base that appears to have had it’s thin upright stone broken off. (Mar 2013)
Another view of the previous base/stone. (Mar 2013)
Looking east from the cemetery. Could more stones be hidden in this swamp? (Mar 2013) Full Size
A base with its built in stone broken off long ago. (Mar 2013)
One more base – and once again no stone in sight. (Mar 2013)
That’s me (Jeff) beside the Aiken stone during a wintertime visit to the cemetery. (Dec 2016) Full Size