The county jail recently partnered with the Greene County Historical Society and Museum to honor those buried at the Poor Farm Cemetery. The burial site shares land with the jail on a hilltop overlooking Rolling Meadows Road in Waynesburg.
A decade ago, inmates on the jail’s labor grounds crew built wooden crosses for the graves, but those have since dilapidated.
“We had reached out to them (in April) because we had noticed the demise,” said warden John Kingston. “As a matter of concern, it was mentioned, and they took it upon themselves as a redevelopment (project).”
So, to remember the forgotten, the historical society, with the help of the Pittsburgh Area Artist-Blacksmiths Association, will weld steel crosses for the graves. The initial goal is 100 crosses, though historical society volunteer George “Bly” Blystone said he hopes to eventually make enough for every grave.
The blacksmiths will produce the crosses on May 16 at the W. A. Young and Sons Foundry and Machine Shop in Rices Landing. Then inmates will place them in the cemetery before Memorial Day, Blystone said, with a tentative public unveiling on May 25.
Kingston said the inmates will assist the museum in creating a visitation area for the public.
“It’s fascinating and it’s sad. It’s on the verge of being forgotten,” said Matt Cumberledge, historical society director. “It’s the history of this building we’re preserving on that hilltop.”
The historical society now occupies a building that, centuries ago, housed the residents of the Greene Hills Poor Farm. A poor farm, according to the History Network, was “a facility designed to house poor people in a time before social services.”
The cemetery has only three headstones, though Blystone estimates over 1,000 people are buried there.
“We have some names, but most of the graves are unknown,” Blystone said.
In the early 2000s, Bill Davidson of Waynesburg identified the cemetery’s graves with a divining rod: a copper wire instrument used to find unmarked graves through a process called dowsing.
“I fold it up and keep it in my pocket, I unfold it and bend it into an L and use that,” Davidson said. “You can find just about any disturbance in the ground, which could be water or a grave or something else buried there.”
Davidson said he “came up with a lot of hits,” when he dowsed the Poor Farm Cemetery.
“It just kept turning and bouncing and turning and bouncing,” Davidson recalls. “I can’t think of a word to use, but finding them, gee.”
Fundraising for the project kicks off at this year’s Harvest Festival, on Oct. 12 and 13 at the Greene County Historical Society and Museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Throughout the festival, guests can check out displays and exhibits about the project at the barn located on the museum grounds.
According to Sam Gandy, historical society events manager, the focus of this year’s Harvest Festival is to “focus on reinventing it, make it what the community needs it to be.”
Gandy started planning the event in March and said this year will offer a kid’s area complete with candy, scavenger hunts, photo cutouts, pumpkin bowling and costume contests. Also new this year, on Sunday there will be a pumpkin pie contest.
Two bands will perform throughout each day. Demonstrations include a canon firing, pottery, blacksmiths, Civil War and Native American reenactments and more.
Admission is $5 and children 10 and under are free.
“It’s not your typical fall event,” Gandy said. “You come here and get to see the history of the county.”
For more information on the Poor Farm Cemetery project, or the Harvest Festival, call the historical society at 724-627-3204.