Cemetery for Harford County's poor given new life for Eagle Scout project

A Bel Air cemetery that is the final resting place of a number of residents of the county's former almshouse has been refurbished as part of a local Boy Scout's Eagle Scout service project.

"It looked very neglected and old, and the crosses were all in really bad condition," Jacob Richardson, 16, of Bel Air, said during a visit to the Heavenly Waters Cemetery late last week.

Ten crosses, nine of them new and one original, line the edge of the Harford County-owned field off North Tollgate Road across from the Equestrian Center.

Jacob, a sophomore at C. Milton Wright High School, is a member of Troop 238, of Hickory, and he completed his Eagle project May 6 with the support of 13 fellow Scouts and his family.

The group spent several hours on the morning of May 6 cleaning the cemetery and making the ground level, installing the crosses and putting up a memorial to those buried there, according to Jacob.

"We had three trailer loads of old logs and sticks," David Richardson, Jacob's father, said.

Jacob is a Life Scout, the second-highest rank in Boy Scouts before Eagle. He said he has to earn about three more merit badges before he earns the Eagle Scout honor.

"I feel proud about it," he said of completing his service project.

The almshouse was built in 1857 on a 256-acre farm, now occupied by sites such as the Equestrian Center and the Harford County Parks & Recreation Department headquarters.

The Trustees of the Poor operated the facility, which housed Harford County's homeless and poor residents, until 1861. The Harford County Commissioners took it over that year and ran it until the facility closed in 1962, according to a 1976 Maryland Historical Trust survey.

For most of its life in the last century, the institution was known as the County Home. People could be sent there by court order, if they were found to be indigent, according to research on the home and adjoining farm compiled at the Historical Society of Harford County. The building was demolished shortly after the County Home closed.

"It just never really occurred to me that that's how poor people were treated," said Jacob, who called the practice "sort of sad and weird."

A sign was installed during the service project to mark the site as Heavenly Waters Cemetery and memorializing the people buried there.

"These crosses represent a small fraction of the people buried in this field," the sign states. "From the mid-1800s through 1973, Harford County's poor, unknown and unwanted were laid to rest here. May they rest in peace."

David Richardson said he and his son confirmed 95 people who are buried in the cemetery, including 91 who lived in the alms house, two people whose name plates they found while cleaning out the brush, an unidentified man whose body was found nearby after being hit by a train — the old Ma & Pa Railroad once ran past the cemetery — and another person who was lynched in 1900 in Bel Air.

Jacob said he wanted to "help them out and give them a better cemetery."

David Richardson, an attorney for Southwest Airlines, recalled reading three years ago about a lynching that happened on the Eastern Shore during the 1930s.

A Harford County native, who grew up in Edgewood, he wondered if anything similar had happened in Harford.

He said "a little quick Internet research" led to information about Lewis Harris, an African-American man lynched by a mob in Bel Air in 1900.

Harris had been accused of assaulting a local white woman, Anne McIlvaine, at her home near the railroad station in Bel Air on March 25, 1900, according to a description posted on the Maryland State Archives website. The arrest and subsequent lynching were extensively reported by The Aegis.

Harris, who had worked as a hostler for the county sheriff, was arrested a short time later and taken to the jail on Main Street in Bel Air. The sheriff, Andrew Kinhart, had wanted to move Harris to Baltimore City before trial, however, because of the risk he could be lynched by a mob in Harford County, as there had been "heightened emotions in Bel Air of late," according to the state archives description.

A mob of about 30 people showed up on March 27 and stormed the jail following a gun battle with the sheriff and one of his deputies. Harris was taken out of the jail, hung by rope from a nearby poplar tree along the Churchville Road and then shot, according to The Aegis report of the incident.

No one was ever charged, as the grand jury convened to investigate was unable to get positive identification of anyone who was involved, The Aegis reported. The Harris lynching is the last ever reported in Harford County.

"I wondered, where is a guy like that buried?" David Richardson recalled.

Harris is buried in Heavenly Waters cemetery, according to Richardson's research – the burial at the County Home cemetery was also reported by The Aegis.

David Richardson said he had seen the cemetery before.

"I saw the old crosses here, but I thought it was a fence railing in an old fence line," he said.

Richardson suggested his son take on cleaning up the cemetery for his Eagle project.

"There's probably a lot of unknown people [buried] here," Richardson said.

Jacob, his father and uncle built the new crosses from cedar wood and stained them at the home of Jacob's grandmother before they were installed May 6.

They used records available at the Historical Society of Harford County, former aerial maps of the site and articles published in The Aegis during the early 1900s for their research, and father and son plan to conduct more research on the cemetery and the people buried there.

They had additional support from Jacob's mother, Rayna, a stay-at-home mom, and financial contributions from friends, family, neighbors and local businesses to cover the more-than-$800 cost of the project.

Klein's ShopRite donated food and $100, and American Design and Build, of Bel Air, donated money so the crew could rent equipment to remove the brush, according to David Richardson.

"Jacob had a 90 percent success rate asking people for support," Richardson said. "A lot of people were interested in the project."

Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2017, The Aegis, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
34°