Old Gravestone Moved Out of East Wheeling

WHEELING – The recently unearthed grave marker belonging to a War of 1812 veteran and his family was delivered Tuesday to its permanent home at Mount Wood Cemetery.

During excavation at the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park site in East Wheeling in late October, a worker discovered a large grave marker bearing the names of Fielder Berry, his wife Elizabeth and son George – and an unidentified partial human skeleton – beneath a portion of the work site that had been a cemetery until about a century ago.

The marker, a 6-foot obelisk weighing about 1,000 pounds, now rests on wooden blocks alongside the road near the top of the cemetery hill. A permanent location for the marker at the cemetery is yet to be determined, and it likely will need a concrete base in order to remain stable, work that may not take place until spring.

The Friends of Wheeling, Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. and Ohio Valley Young Preservationists groups have been working to restore the old city-owned cemetery, which recently was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the final resting place of many prominent local residents.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said the Friends of Wheeling’s Jeanne Finstein. “We wanted to make sure his marker is retrieved and taken care of.”

Fielder Berry, who served in the Maryland militia during the War of 1812, moved to Wheeling sometime in the 1820s and died in 1859. It’s unknown whether the Berrys’ remains disintegrated before the cemetery was closed or they were among those moved to the Greenwood or Peninsula cemeteries.

Newspaper accounts indicated the old East Wheeling cemetery had fallen into disrepair, and the process of relocating those buried there took place gradually over a period of almost 20 years before the Elks Playground, which stood until last year, opened in 1910. The grave marker and bones apparently were overlooked – or ignored – during that process.

Nothing further has been found, and the discoveries at the work site did not delay work on the $3.3 million J.B. Chambers Recreation Park project, according to City Manager Robert Herron. He said Tuesday the facility remains on track to be complete by the end of the year, barring an unusual amount of severe weather.

Although the law states it is not intended to interfere with property development, West Virginia code requires work that may cause further disturbance to cease immediately upon the discovery of unmarked graves or historic grave markers on either public or private property. The procedure calls for notification of the State Historic Preservation Office, which is supposed to conduct an on-site inspection before anything is removed.

But City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth believes the city acted properly, noting SHPO officials approved the East Wheeling project before work began – knowing full well part of the work site had once been a cemetery. She doesn’t believe the fact such clearance was given before anyone knew what would be found there changes anything.

The SHPO “provided clearance for the entire project. … They knew it had been developed and redeveloped several times,” Humway-Warmuth said.

The city notified the SHPO of the discoveries in a letter dated Oct. 31.

According to the letter, the worker who found the large obelisk and moved it believed it to be an old National Road marker, not realizing what it was until he cleaned the mud from it and revealed the names. A direct descendant of Fielder Berry who lives in Georgia gave permission for the city to relocate the marker, Humway-Warmuth said, and the city plans to inter the unidentified bones at Manchester Cemetery off Rock Point Road.

State officials have yet to respond to that letter, Humway-Warmuth said.