Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Along the Way: The Story of Sydney's Stone

Wetmore Cemetery, North Warren
Sydney's Stone is on the right side
The large stone in line with tree in the cemetery
The GPS announced I was arriving at the Wetmore Cemetery in North Warren. I slowed down some but the traffic on Route 62 prevented me from finding a good place to pull off so I was past it with only a glimpse of the sign for the cemetery atop the small, but steep bank.

I found a place to turn around and returned toward the cemetery. I pulled into the lot across Route 62 and studied the cemetery on the opposite side of the road. For a moment I debated on parking and taking my chances crossing the four lanes of Route 62, but the constant traffic quickly pushed that idea out of my head.

From where I sat I could see a car lot next to the cemetery and decided to go there and see if there was any place to park. Pulling into the lot I could see some parking places, but part of me really didn’t feel comfortable parking my vehicle in the midst of a used car lot.

I did another quick search and found mention that a road to the cemetery off of South State Street led back to the cemetery. I drove slowly along the road until I found a dirt road (that appeared to be a driveway) but I could see the cemetery at the end of the road. I drove down it, and stopped near somebody’s garage, staying far enough away that I wasn’t blocking entry into it. There were some people standing outside the nearby house but they didn’t say anything as I got out of the vehicle and walked across the patch of lawn and into the oak grove that was home to the Wetmore Cemetery.

I took in my surroundings before I set foot onto the sacred grounds. The sign for the cemetery and a fence exists along the eastern side of the cemetery at the edge of the embankment. Pieces of fencing still exist on the other three sides of the cemetery, but most of it has become a victim of time. On the north side of the grounds stand two granite shafts. These mark the original entrance into the cemetery, but are nearly hidden by trees and brush.

Many of the stones in the cemetery are either broken or merely field stones. The oldest stones have weathered over the years and are difficult to read. Only a handful of modern stones exist scattered around the cemetery grounds.

The small cemetery was originally called the Jackson Cemetery due to its location on lands owned by Daniel Jackson, an early settler. Daniel is believed to be buried within the grounds of the cemetery; Jackson Run (on the western side of Route 62) still bears his name. Upon his death he willed his property to a Mr. Winters who then donated the piece of land that the cemetery rested upon to the Conewango Township supervisors. The cemetery became known as the Wetmore Cemetery after the lands surrounding it were purchased by the Wetmore family.

Spotting the stone I was convinced was the one I came in search of, I carefully made my way through the old stones. The writing was hard to read, but I could make out enough to know that this was the grave I was searching for. This stab of sandstone marks the resting place of Sydney Berry.
In the course of history, Sydney barely made a mark while he was alive. However the erection of his monument secured him a place in regional history. Though I was familiar with his story, as I stood there reading the inscription on his tombstone sent shivers running through me.

The grave of Sydney Berry
Wetmore Cemetery
The badly weathered stone bears witness
To his death
Allow me to share with you the story as it is inscribed on his tombstone.

Sydney N Berry
Whose Death
October 29th AD 1839
Was Caused
By a Fall of This Stone
Aged 32 Years
Though didst it well, oh cruel stone
To let thy fatal weight on one
So well prepared
Now guard thy victim’s mouldering dust
While to it’s home of holy rest
His spirit fled

Yes, the rock that caused Sydney’s death would be the rock that would mark his resting spot on the sacred piece of land known as Wetmore Cemetery.

Sydney was employed to help construct the Hazel Street Bridge that crossed the Allegheny River. The Hazel Street Bridge was a covered bridge that existed from 1839 to 1855 and was the first bridge over the Allegheny River at Warren.

The understanding I've always had when I've read about his death (which due to the passage of time is very little) is that he was at the site of the bridge when the accident occurred. However, I did stumble upon an article that states Sydney was at the sandstone quarry when the accident happened. The sandstone was being quarried to build the piers for the covered bridge to rest upon. While helping to quarry the stone to be used, one of the rocks shifted and fell, striking and killing him.

Which version is correct, I'm not sure, but it happening at the quarry does make a little more sense in my mind. Sydney's remains would be buried in the Wetmore Cemetery and from the rock that claimed his life a marker was formed.

If you choose to visit, I ask the you do so respectfully. Please be careful when moving through the cemetery, many of the older stones are extremely fragile.

A note about Sydney's family: At the time of his death, Sydney was married to Janet Sill Berry. They had two children, Gurdon and Elias. His wife was pregnant at the time of the accident with their third child, who would be named in honor of his father. Sadly young Sydney passed at the age of three and rests near his father. 

Sometime after the death of young Sydney, the family moved out of the area. I found that Sydney’s two surviving sons are buried in Titusville, but where Janet rests remains unknown at this time.

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