A Walk Through the Centuries

A black and white photo of a large tomb stone for Mary Margaret Schmid
St. Clair Cemetery was established in 1805, and expanded sometime in the mid-19th century. The cemetery holds the remains of about 1,000 people from about 200 families.

If you lived in the area now called Mt. Lebanon in the early- to mid-19th century, chances are you’d be living on a farm and have Scottish, Irish, or English heritage. You’d also likely be a member of the Associate Reformed Congregation of Saw Mill Run. Founded in 1804 in what was then St. Clair Township, the church, now called Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church, was the third church in the area; only St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (1767) in Scott Township and Bethel Presbyterian (1776) on Bethel Church Road are older. If you were married, you might have produced a big family, because families with five to 11 children were not uncommon. Unfortunately, neither was infant and child death, with many little ones dying before their fifth birthdays.

All of this is evident if you take a walk in the two-acre St. Clair Cemetery on Scott Road. Unlike the much larger Mt. Lebanon Cemetery (established in 1874) across the road, St. Clair Cemetery was founded when the area was still farms and forest. According to the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, in the spring of 1805 land was deeded to the newly formed Presbyterian congregation for a church and burial ground, along what is now Scott Road. The cemetery was laid out around the new log church, measuring 35-by-50 feet, in the lower section of the property.

An old black and white photo of a church on a hill.
Founded in 1804, the church that was then called the Associate Reformed Congregation of Saw Mill Run established St. Clair Cemetery the following year. Now called the Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the current building dates back to 1873.

Many of the first burials in St. Clair were either of people born in the 18th century or their offspring. There are at least three documented veterans of the Revolutionary War here—John Henry, James Glenn and Nathaniel Plummer—and reports of several others without the records to verify it. Colonel Alexander Carnahan, Nathaniel Pearson and William Glenn, all buried here, served in the War of 1812, and there are approximately 25 Civil War veterans in the cemetery.

“Ultimately our records are incomplete,” said Mark Hughey, a church member who serves as secretary/treasurer of the St. Clair Cemetery Board of Directors, which is responsible for the graveyard through a nonprofit association. Hughey’s grandfather, his grandfather’s two successive wives, an uncle and an aunt are among the members of his family buried in St. Clair. A Boy Scout project in 1915 provided invaluable information by recording information from the gravestones, much of which has since eroded away.

a woman with a dog leaning over a tomb stone
M.A. Jackson, former president of the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, put together a booklet about the cemetery and a website, stclaircemetery.com.

St. Clair was the subject of other scouting projects, ranging from restoring veterans’ tombstones to mapping the cemetery to doing grave rubbings. M.A. Jackson, former president of the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, put together an invaluable booklet and website (stclaircemetery.com), and has led tours of the cemetery. Ultimately researchers have discovered that there are about 1,000 people buried here, from 200 families. About 30 to 40 percent of them are children.

“A lot of people on the tours came up to me and gave me information on their relations who were buried here,” said Jackson. “These are the founding fathers and mothers of Mt. Lebanon, the people who made our community. They were the first postmaster, the first doctor. The roots of the community are here.”

Judy Sutton of Avon Drive, a docent at Heinz History Center who also leads walking tours for the historical society, agrees. “History tells us where we came from; you have to understand the past to understand the present. To learn about these people’s lives is to understand how this community came about.”

a black and white photo of a tomb stone for J. Thos. Wilbraham and Jessie A. His wife
The first burial in St. Clair Cemetery is believed to have been in 1806. A 2004 survey found the earliest legible headstone was from 1812.

Names that Live on

By 1837, the congregation had outgrown its log church. John McFarlane sold the church a three-acre plot on Washington Road, the church’s current location, for $150. The brick church that was built there was destroyed in a windstorm in 1871 and replaced by a new brick church, dedicated in 1873. By that time the congregation’s name was St. Clair United Presbyterian. The church that stands there today was dedicated in 1929 as Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church. The congregation retained the cemetery property and continued to fill it with their members; by the mid-19th century outsiders could also be buried there for a $2 fee.

“Here are the people who made this area what it is today.”

These are people whose legacies and names shaped our community: the Beadlings, McCullys, MacFarlands, Kelsos, McNeillys, among others. Many of them came to America in search of a better life. Some of their lives were marked by war, backbreaking work, and early death. Many of them spent their days doing interesting and fulfilling work (see sidebar) that left their mark on Pittsburgh and our community.

a black and white photo of an unlabeled tomb stone and a sign describing the beginning of the cemetery is 1805
A 1915 Boy Scout project recorded information from St. Clair’s gravestones, many of which have been eroded by time.

The cemetery is still owned by Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but the church doesn’t contribute financially to its upkeep of the cemetery; money comes from a separate fund. Hughey and board president Dave Fahringer do some of the maintenance work themselves, setting stones upright, removing marks of vandalism and clearing weeds.

“I can see the St. Clair Cemetery from my office window, and it is a constant reminder of the faithful people who wanted to bless the community 219 years ago by planting a church on a tree stump under a tent,” said the Rev. Carolyn V. Poteet, lead pastor of Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church. “From the earliest days of Mt. Lebanon, these men and women were pioneers of faith and service. We hope we can be good stewards of their legacy and have as much vision as they did to serve Jesus Christ and Mt. Lebanon for many years to come.”

Although there have been a few burials in the 21st century, many of the families associated with the gravestones in St. Clair Cemetery have moved out of the area or lost touch with their ancestral heritage.

“People should walk through this cemetery, it’s a fascinating place,” said Sutton. “They should learn about these folks buried here and what they went through. Some of them got land here as payment from the government for fighting in the Revolution. So many of their children died. Life was a struggle. Here are the people who made this area what it is today. What they went through enables us to live like we do now.”


The Lives They Lived

Among the many notable people buried in St. Clair Cemetery:

John Henry (1750-1838) was born in County Down, Ireland, and emigrated to America at the age of 16. Records indicate that Henry was an “Indian fighter,” who, in 1772, led a team of 40 men seeking to regain five kidnapped children. Afterwards he served as a private in the Washington County Militia during the Revolutionary War and received in return a grant of 406 acres in the Twin Hills/McMonagle Road area, which he farmed. When the church was established, he was a founding member and eventually became a commissioner of St. Clair Township as well. He fathered 11 children with two wives, and there are at least five generations of his family buried in St. Clair Cemetery.

Ely Neeld came to this country from Northern Ireland, but his family was originally Danish. He worked at one point as a stagecoach driver between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. His grave has not been identified, but there is a good chance he is buried here since his wife Mary Jane (1818-1873) and son John R. are. 

John Neeld was a riverman, serving as a mate on Ohio and Mississippi River steamers, as well as whaling boats. When the Civil War began, Neeld enlisted in the inland navy and was made captain of the dispatch boat De Soto, stationed on the Mississippi, and later commanded the gunboat Lafayette. He was at the battle of Vicksburg, among others. After the war he bought a tugboat and worked in New Orleans before returning to Pittsburgh in 1872, when President Ulysses Grant named him inspector of steamship hulls. When Neeld died, in 1896, the boats in Pittsburgh harbor flew their flags at half-mast in his honor.

Cyrus B. Schreiner (1852-1900) and his wife Myrtilla Reed Schreiner (1857-1935) lived in a house at the corner of Washington and Bower Hill roads. Born in New Texas in eastern Allegheny County, Cyrus studied medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and moved to Mt. Lebanon in 1878, where his practice encompassed what is now Castle Shannon and Upper St. Clair as well as Mt. Lebanon. He traveled the roads in a horse-drawn buggy and is reported to have been much esteemed by the community. He and Myrtilla had 10 children, including three who died in childhood, and Cyrus himself died at the age of 48. Their son, Dr. Samuel Schreiner, served as Mt. Lebanon’s solicitor from 1912 to 1954 and solicitor for the school district for 50 years.

Photos by John Altdorfer