Along the Way: Sidney’s Stone

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Grave of Sidney Berry, Wetmore Cemetery, North Warren (I need to apologize about the strange lighting on this picture = To get his words to show up on the old stone, the picture had to be brightened a lot)

The GPS announced I was arriving at the Wetmore Cemetery in North Warren. I slowed down some, searching for a place to park but the traffic on Route 62 prevented me from slowing down too much and I was past it with only a glimpse of the sign for the cemetery atop the small, but steep bank on the eastern edge of the road.

I found a place to turn around and returned to the cemetery, parking in a lot on the opposite side of Route 62. I studied the cemetery and wondered how to gain access to the sacred piece of ground. For a moment I debated on taking my chances and crossing the four lanes of Route 62, but the constant traffic quickly pushed that idea out of my head.

From where I sat I could see a car lot next to the cemetery and decided to go there and see if there was any place to park. Pulling into the lot I could see some parking places, but part of me really didn’t feel comfortable parking my vehicle in the midst of the used car lot that bordered the historic cemetery.

I did another quick internet search and found mention of a road that led to the cemetery off of South State Street. I drove slowly along South State Street until I found the dirt road – I could see the cemetery at the end of it. I drove slowly on this dirt road, which by all appearances I thought was a driveway, and parked where it ended at a small, overgrown lot. I wasn’t happy about the location where I was parked, but it seemed the best of the options at hand. I was near somebody’s garage, but I stayed far enough away that I wasn’t blocking entry into it. There were some people standing outside a nearby house but they didn’t say anything as I got out of the vehicle, walked across the patch of overgrown lawn and into the oak grove that sheltered Wetmore Cemetery.

Pausing at the edge of the cemetery, I took a moment to study the grounds before setting foot onto the sacred grounds. The sign for the cemetery and a newer fence exists along the western edge of the cemetery at the top of the embankment. Pieces of an older fence still exist on the other three sides of the cemetery, but most of it has become victim of time. On the north side of the grounds, right next to the car lot, stand two granite shafts that mark the original entrance into the cemetery, but were hidden by trees and brush. When I had temporarily stopped in the used car lot, I was not able to see this entrance due to the thickness of the undergrowth.

Many of the stones in the cemetery are either broken or merely field stones. The cemetery, despite it’s age, is in good condition; somebody has been taking care of the landscape and it appeared that somebody had been there working in the cemetery recently. Note: Little did I know at the time the cemetery had just cleaned up from a tornado that had passed over it in 2016, downing some trees and destroying some of the stones.

The oldest stones have weathered over the years and are difficult to read, if they ever had words etched into them. Only a handful of modern stones exist scattered around the cemetery grounds. Walking over to the sign that stands at the western edge of the cemetery, closest to Route 62, there is an attached paper that states there are one hundred and fifty three burials in the old cemetery and most of the burials are listed as “Unknown.”

The small cemetery was originally called the Jackson Cemetery due to its location on land owned by Daniel Jackson, an early settler. Daniel is believed to be buried within the grounds of the cemetery; Jackson Run (on the western side of Route 62) still bears his name. Upon his death Daniel willed his property to a Mr. Winters who then donated the piece of land that the cemetery rests upon to the Conewango Township supervisors. The cemetery became known as the Wetmore Cemetery after the lands surrounding it were purchased by the Wetmore family.

Spotting the stone I was convinced was the one I came in search of, I carefully made my way among the old stones. The sandstone is roughly two feet wide, eight inches thick and between four and five feet tall (depending on how deep into the ground it went). The writing on this piece of sandstone was hard to read, but I could make out enough to know that this was the grave I was searching for. This stab of sandstone marks the resting place of Sidney Berry.

In the course of history, Sidney barely made a mark while he was alive. However the erection of his monument secured him a place in regional history. Though I was familiar with his story, as I stood there reading the inscription on his tombstone, shivers ran through me. His stone is weathered and is barely legible, but I was able to make out enough of the words to read what had been recorded on the tombstone.

The marker tells the following story: “Sidney N Berry / Whose Death / October 29th AD 1839 / Was Caused / By a Fall of This Stone / Aged 32 Years / Though didst it well, oh cruel stone / To let thy fatal weight on one / So well prepared / Now guard thy victim’s mouldering dust / While to it’s home of holy rest / His spirit fled.”

Yes, the rock that caused Sidney’s death would become the stone marking his resting spot.

Sidney was employed to help construct the Hazel Street Bridge across the Allegheny River. The Hazel Street Bridge was a covered bridge that existed from 1839 to 1855 and was the first bridge to span the Allegheny River in Warren.

The understanding I’ve always had when I’ve read about Sidney’s death (which, due to the passage of time is very little) is that he was at the site of the bridge when the accident occurred. The stone had somehow slid as it was being placed on the pier and fell.

However, I did stumble upon an article that states Sidney was at the sandstone quarry when the accident happened. The sandstone was being quarried to erect the piers that the covered bridge would rest upon. While helping to quarry the stone to be used, one of the rocks shifted and fell, striking and killing him. The boulder was later cut down to become his headstone.

Which version is correct, I’m not sure, the accident happening at the quarry is more likely than it happening at the bridge site. Sidney’s body would be buried in the Wetmore Cemetery and from the rock that claimed his life a marker was formed with the story of his death chiseled into it.

As I prepared to leave the cemetery, the lettering on another tombstone caught my eye and I walked over to investigate. The stone marked the graves of Polly Doty and her daughter, Emily. Polly was 62 when she died in 1842 and Emily was just sixteen when she passed in May 1832. Between the two names is engraved: “Blessed are the dad / who die in the Lord.” Just a small spelling mistake.

If you choose to visit, I ask you do so respectfully. Please be careful when moving through the cemetery, many of the older stones are extremely fragile.

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