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An Old Cemetery Filled With The Young

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An Old Cemetery Filled With The Young
       Utceter Cemetery, in western Lycoming County along Pine Creek just off the rail-trail one mile south of Slate Run, contains about 45-50 gravesites of 19th century pioneer farming and lumbering families.  The names include Callahan, Tomb, Stradley, Hilborn and Herritt.
       Daniel Callahan, born in Ireland, was a Revolutionary War veteran who received a tract of land up Pine Creek as his “pension” for his services.  Utceter Cemetery is on what was his property.  When the railroad came through in the early 1880’s, a telegraph office called Utceter Station was also built there.
       Although Daniel is not buried in the cemetery, a son of his, John Callahan, is.  In fact, Callahan was the last, and by far, oldest person buried in the cemetery.  Interred on January 28, 1891, John was 100 years old!
       Historian John F. Meginness, in his 1892 “History of Lycoming County,” wrote about the birthday party John Callahan’s daughter, a Mrs. Henry Gamble, threw for him at her home just 11 days before he died:  “It was an interesting sight to witness the descendants of the venerable centenarian assembled around him.  There were 34 grand and 23 great-grandchildren [along with 7 of his 13 children], the representatives of four generations, present on this memorable occasion.  The patriarch was in fairly good health, but a few days after the reunion he fell seriously ill, and on January 28, 1891, passed to the Great Beyond.”
       John’s wife, Esther (nee English), of the pioneer family English Center is named after, was one of the next oldest, dying on April 6, 1869, at age 71.  She and John had been married since January 31, 1822.  A daughter named Emily is buried in Utceter also, her stone recording her death on March 17, 1853, at only 23 years old.
       The Tomb family’s presence in Pine Creek Valley began with Jacob Tomb Sr., born in 1758, another Revolutionary War veteran who was also “pensioned” land in the Slate Run area.  He was actually the first to settle there, arriving in 1791, according to an essay by local historian Helen H. Russell in Spencer Kraybill’s monumental work, “Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Valley and Pioneer Families.”
       After building his home at the mouth of Slate Run (where the Hotel Manor is now located), Jacob erected grist and saw mills in the area.  His one son, Philip, is known for his 1854 book, “Pioneer Life or 30 Years a Hunter.”
       Neither Jacob nor Philip is buried in Utceter, but Jacob’s one great-grandson, also named Philip, is.  Kraybill recorded, “Philip was drowned in a flood trying to save his brother John.”  Philip’s gravestone has his death on “Feb. 19, 1863, aged 39” etched onto it.
       This Philip had a brother named Jacob, who married a Jane (nee Cooper), and three of their children are also buried in Utceter.  Laura J. Tomb died Feb. 16, 1861, at age 2; John William on July 25, 1865, at age 1; and Jacob Emanuel on May 11, 1868, also only 1 year old.
       Benjamin Tomb, a grandson of Jacob Sr., married Harriet (nee Callahan), and three of their children also died very young:  one stone records a “Wm. D. C.,” who died Aug. 10, 1854, “aged 10 months”; another a son named “Trevette M.,” at 9 years; the third a daughter “Maria H.,” on Nov. 17, 1854, at age 15.
       The final legible Tomb headstone records yet another young death, that of one-year-old “Willard B.,” son of Stephen R. and Hannah (nee Hilborn) Tomb, on Aug. 15, 1866.  Willard’s father, Stephen, was well known on Pine Creek as “The Fiddler”; Kraybill notes that his violin was “made in Italy in 1721 and someone got possession of it and sold it for $300.”
       As so tragically evidenced in Utceter Cemetery by all these early deaths of Tomb families’ children, pioneer lives in the 19th century often ended all too soon.
       Stradley was another great Pine Creek Valley pioneer family name.  Five Stradleys have readable stones in Utceter:  Theodore, Noah, Margaret J., Luzernia and Amos.  Theodore and Noah were sons of Shadrack Stradley Sr., who was originally from Dover, Delaware.  Theodore died Jan. 22, 1855, “aged 47 years” (with “Sweet be thy rest” etched onto his stone), while Noah lived one of those rare long lives to age 85, dying on Jan. 10, 1881 (a timeworn inscription on his stone reads, incompletely and inexactly, “Dear Uncle, Thou hast left us, Praise God that hath benefited us all the days, all our sorrow heal”).  Amos, possibly another brother, lived from June 7, 1803 until January 11, 1855.
       Margaret Jane was, most likely, Theodore’s daughter; she died April 21, 1860, “aged 16 years” (with “Sister thou wert mild and lovely” on her stone).  Luzernia, perhaps another daughter, died Dec. 13, 1861, at age 12.  On her stone are the Biblical words, “Suffer little children to come unto me” (Mark 10:14).
       The Hilborns, yet another famous Valley homesteading family, came from Bucks County.  Hilborn Village (between Slate Run and Cedar Run) was founded by Jesse Hilborn, with a post office established on March 26, 1886.  Jesse and Mary Ann (nee Tomb) had a son named Abel, buried at Utceter on March 30, 1859, at age 1 month and 17 days.
       A Hiram Hilborn (b. 1817, d. 1894) married Eleanor (nee Tomb).  Their daughter, Rosanna H., died on January 21, 185, just one year old; a son, George B., was put to rest on April 11, 1861, at age 11.  Both children lie in the sacred ground of Utceter Cemetery.  Hiram and Eleanor, not buried at Utceter, lived until 1894, dying just four days apart.
       A stone with Ellen R. (Rosannah) Herritt’s name on it shows her as the “wife of William.”  She was a daughter of Jesse and Mary Ann Hilborn.  Ellen died at “age 22 yrs. 1 m. & 10 d,” on Aug. 22, 1877, at the birth of a second child, which expired with its mother.  A lengthy inscription on her weathered tombstone reads, again incompletely and inexactly, “Dearest sister, thou hast left us, loss we deeply feel; He can all our sorrows heal, yet again we hope to see you, when the day of life is fled, then in heaven.”
       Finally, two side-by-side stones nearest the banks of Pine Creek have “1861-65 GAR American flags” by them.  These Civil War veterans’ inscriptions read “J. E. Price, Co. B, 8th PA. CAV.” And “E. E. Price, Co. B, 8th PA. CAV.”  Who these two were and why they were buried in Utceter could not be ascertained.
       This old pioneer cemetery is currently in a state of neglect.  Stones are broken, lying on their backs or faces, and sunken into the earth.  Inscriptions on some are worn to the point of unreadability.  Vegetation has overgrown the site.
       No greater reminder of the harshness and, with just a few exceptions, shortness of life in Pine Creek Valley during the 1800’s exists than Utceter Cemetery.  

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