On a hill overlooking Donora sits the Gilmore Cemetery.
The cemetery is overrun not only with high brush but tree saplings obscuring the tombstones.
Tucked beneath that brush and trees, Dennis Gutierrez believes, is history that even predates the borough. He hopes to restore the cemetery.
Gutierrez said Clifford Gilmore approached him in fall 2015, asking if the council president could do anything to restore the cemetery.
The 1.95-acre cemetery was deeded Sept. 11, 1884, according to a copy of the deed Gutierrez acquired from Washington County records. The last burial was in 1934, said Gilmore.
Gilmore said it also became the final resting grounds for soldiers of the Civil War and World War II. Gutierrez is in the process of researching the burial records.
“We have legal use of property as long as it remains a cemetery,” said Gilmore.
“My dad told me there was an agreement between Carroll Township and my family to have a cemetery there as long as the bodies remain there.”
Donora was not incorporated until 1902.
Halfway down the hill, in the center of the plot, is a large stone monument, which is the burial ground for Capt. John Gilmore. In a circle around his grave are small gravestones with family members.
According to the Donora Centennial book, published in 2001, the Gilmore family moved to the area in 1863 from Pittsburgh. John Gilmore’s mansion on 13th Street was reported to be the first house in western Pennsylvania to have an elevator.
Gilmore deeded the land on the hillside, overlooking what is now Meldon Avenue between 13th and 14th streets, to the people of the area for use as a cemetery.
Gilmore operated a steamboat line of eight vessels, known as the Gilmore Line. His barges transported coal to New Orleans, the centennial book notes.
During the Civil War, Captain John Gilmore and his sons served in the U.S. Navy.
One of the sons, Captain James Gilmore, joined his steamboat, the “Wild Cat,” with a fleet of northern gunboats on the Cumberland River. Another son, Frank Gilmore, enlisted and fought with Company A, 155th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, the centennial book notes. John Gilmore also operated a coal mine, known as the Wildcat Mine.
The Gilmore Ferry was at the northern end of the community and was one of several ferries helping to transfer people and horses and wagons across the Monongahela River between what are now Donora and Webster, notes the book.
A road cuts diagonally across the cemetery. Entrance to the cemetery was at one time at the bottom of Meldon Avenue.
Gilmore said over the years, a fence was erected along the property although he is unsure by whom. A break in the fence, in the area of the Spanish Club, now provides access to the cemetery for those willing to navigate the sea of saplings and brush. A hunting tree stand was built by someone on the edge of the fence in one corner of the cemetery.
“My earliest memories of the cemetery are of going down with my dad when he was cutting the grass,” Gilmore said. “When the zinc works was operating, it killed a lot of the vegetation there. The zinc works paid toward damages, and we used to hire people and buy equipment to keep it restored.
“There used to be a shed at the top of the hill with the equipment, but people broke into it and stole the equipment.”
The zinc works, located along the Monongahela River below, closed in 1956.
Gilmore said the cemetery has remained in the family for 133 years, but the site has deteriorated over the years.
“There is no money to hire someone to keep it up, and it became what it is today, a forest,” Gilmore said. “It’s a shame it’s become what it is.
“I’m 82 years old. I can’t do anything with it.”
Gilmore said he would like to see the cemetery restored. He told Gutierrez a contingency plan is needed so that if it is restored, it would be maintained.
At one time, then-Mayor John Lignelli recruited Boy Scouts and even Furlough Into Service inmates from the Washington County Correctional Facility to clear the brush from the cemetery.
Gutierrez said the first step is to clear the brush and saplings.
“I hope we can do that this summer if I can get some volunteers,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez also hopes to put a sign on Meldon Avenue at the entrance to the cemetery because people do not know that it is there.
Gutierrez said he believes the cemetery is significant for the borough because it may be the burial grounds for some of the founders of Donora. It was deeded 18 years before Donora was founded in 1902.
“It shows the borough’s respect for the dead, and it is an historic cemetery,” Gutierrez said.
“It was also once a part of Carroll Township, and the surrounding areas may have distant relatives buried there.”