In Southwest Philadelphia along Cobbs Creek lies Mount Moriah, one of the city’s great rural cemeteries developed in the mid-1800’s. It once even held the grave of Betsy Ross, before she and husband John Claypoole were moved to the courtyard of her historic landmark home on Arch Street. Unlike the city’s beloved National Historic Landmark cemetery Laurel Hill, Mount Moriah fell into a state of neglect in more recent years. Since 2011, volunteers with the organization Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery have been working hard to restore the cemetery to its former glory.
Visiting Mount Moriah
The cemetery lies divided between Philadelphia and the borough of Yeadon. It is accessible by car, with entrance to the Philadelphia side on Kingsessing Avenue and the Yeadon side on Cobbs Creek Parkway. If coming from Center City Philadelphia using public transit, the Route 13 trolley stops right at the cemetery’s gate on Kingsessing Ave.
The Kingsessing gates are open from about 10:30am to 4:00pm every day, although it’s important to note that the gates are opened by volunteers, so if there is inclement weather or a holiday, there is no guarantee they will be open.
If visiting the cemetery, it’s best to dress in long pants and appropriate closed walking shoes or sneakers. Depending on the time of year, bug spray is a good idea too. I didn’t have a problem with mosquitoes on the spring day that I visited, but I’m sure they are there, along with ticks galore. Keep an eye out for poison ivy too, and try to stay on the cleared paths through the cemetery.
The Gate House
One of the first sights to see when you enter from Kingsessing is the brownstone gatehouse built in 1855 by renowned local architect Stephen Decatur Button. The gatehouse is now in an extreme state of decay, but efforts have been made in recent years to support and preserve what remains with hopes that it can be restored.
Reclaimed by Nature
Walking through the cemetery, especially by yourself, gives an eerie and foreboding feeling (more so than walking through your typical cemetery). The day that I visited was a sunny but ridiculously windy spring day, and despite the bustling urban neighborhoods that surround the cemetery, all there was to be heard was the wind whipping through the trees and grasses. There were a few other (living) souls visiting or working in the cemetery so luckily I wasn’t completely alone. But the state of the declining graves makes you feel like you’re walking in a post-apocalyptic world.
For every tombstone that is still standing properly, there are one or two that are toppled or almost entirely sunken into the earth around them.
You walk through a wooded area, and peer into the brush and trees not expecting to see anything but nature, but there are tombstones in there.
Statues are crumbling.
Obelisks are encircled by vines.
Large family plots are completely overgrown.
Plants grow out of tombs.
Even trees planted intentionally have grown wild.
The cemetery’s location along Cobbs Creek make it an ideal location for invasive plant species to flourish, and nature has been taking back its space.
A somber reality is the fact that many of the graves in Mount Moriah are not all that old. Many of them still have living relatives who remember them, and you will come across some with fresh flowers and mementos. As cool as some of the abandonment looks, it’s actually really sad when you think about these as the graves of someone’s loved one. The graves in this cemetery deserve as much respect as any other – keep that in mind.
The Soldiers’ Lots
In juxtaposition to the graves consumed by nature, the sections of the cemetery dedicated to soldiers have been well-maintained by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. 10 acres of the Yeadon side of the cemetery contain the graves of navy and marine personnel, while a smaller parcel in the Philadelphia side is dedicated to Civil War soldiers who died in battle or in local hospitals.
Mount Moriah instantly became a favorite for me. It was a peaceful adventure away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and one that kept me intrigued with its mysteries. There is plenty more to see and discover, and I know this won’t be my only visit.
With all of their hard work, the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery have made it possible for visitors to enjoy a great portion of the beauty and history that the cemetery has to offer, but as you can see it is still a work in progress. To donate to the preservation of this historic gem, please visit the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery page.