Saturday, August 13, 2016

Historic Gatehouse Stabilization

Mount Moriah Cemetery gatehouse, Philadelphia, August, 2016

One of Philadelphia’s historic gems is off the beaten path. It is miles from the Liberty Bell historic district. However, visitors who appreciate American history would do well to make the trek to Mount Moriah Cemetery in southwest Philadelphia. After all, Betsy Ross is buried here.

Photo by Ken Smith, FOMMCI
The cemetery and its 1855 brownstone gatehouse have recently been recognized with official historic status, as you can see from this 2016 plaque. The problem is, Mount Moriah and its gatehouse had been left to crumble since the 1970s. The gatehouse is really nothing more than a façade at this point. The cemetery, by 2011, was an overgrown forest.

Since 2011, an all-volunteer organization, The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., with help from thousands of volunteers from all walks of life, have been slowly but surely bringing the massive cemetery back from the brink. At a reputed 380 acres (ref.), it is the largest cemetery in the state of Pennsylvania. In 2011, it was no doubt the largest abandoned cemetery in the nation.

The iconic gatehouse, which sits at the original entrance to the cemetery, is of prime concern to the preservation and rejuvenation of the historic cemetery. A large portion of the structure was destroyed by fire decades ago and the walls have literally been tumbling down over the past two years. In 2011, this beautiful piece of architecture was covered with vines, hidden by trees, and filled with old car tires and other trash. One of the Friends board members remarked to me that the vines may have been the only thing holding the gatehouse together.

2012 photo of Mount Moriah Cemetery gatehouse, by Ed Snyder

In 2016, the Friends, in conjunction with the recently-formed Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation “...secured a $22,000 grant from the Mayor’s Fund to be used toward the rescue of the gatehouse.” The corporation found a contractor who could do the work for $32,500 and the Friends group led a fundraising effort to make up the shortfall.

Rear of gatehouse, looking toward Kingsessing Avenue

Work began on the stabilization of the gatehouse in the summer of 2016. The photos you see here with most of the final bracing in place, were made in August, 2016.

In 2016, the cemetery and its gatehouse became a recognized landmark by the American Institute of Architects; it is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and has been deemed eligible for the National Register.

Mount Moriah gatehouse, c.1855

While the gatehouse may never be restored to architect Stephen Decatur Button’s original design, the original façade will be preserved. In future, this can perhaps be repurposed as a columbarium, a structure of vaults with recesses for urns containing cremated remains.

For more information and/or to donate to Mount Moriah’s preservation, please see our website:

For up-to-the-minute (literally!) updates on the many ongoing restoration efforts, please see The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Facebook Group page.