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Voegtly Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Lost Pittsburgh cemetery lives on in memories

When the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation advanced work on the last segment of Interstates 279 and 579 in June 1987 on the North Side, a backhoe working just north of East Ohio Street and the 16th Street Bridge unearthed human bones.

Everything ground to a halt.

PennDOT had an archaeologist there. Federal laws protect cultural artifacts on sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places before federally funded road construction can begin. The area was eligible and had the potential to yield artifacts, but no one expected to find graves. There were no records to indicate they were there.

The Voegtly Church Cemetery, established in what was Allegheny City in 1833, had lain forgotten beneath a parking lot for many generations, but it had to be exhumed.

It was prime construction season, and PennDOT had contracts out. Fifty to 75 archaeologists worked 10-hour days, six days a week, for four months carefully unearthing remains -- row after row of Swiss and German congregants buried in 727 graves from 1833 to 1861.

The remains and artifacts were reburied under one marker in a 2003 ceremony in Troy Hill's Voegtly Evangelical Cemetery.

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Memories: 1
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My mother, Dorothy Mildred Miller Burk grew up with her parents and three brothers in a now-demolished two story house within the iron gates of Voegtly Cemetery, on Troy Hill’s Lowrie Street, overlooking Heinz, where the air always smelled of relish and vinegar. Her father Henry was the gravedigger on the property and her mother Mildred (Winter) Miller made wreaths for the graves. They attended Voegtly Church (demolished) which was located in the North Side area below Troy Hill. I asked my mother once if it wasn’t scary to live in a cemetery. She said she always felt safest when she came home and slammed those iron gates shut. I remember going to the North Side Voegtly Church with my grandma - for food, mostly. It seemed the women were always cooking in the basement. I remember them all as being old. (She passed when I was four.) I heard a strange language spoken there by most of them and was given a treasured Hummel figurine as a gift by one of the ‘grandmas’. I’ll update with old family photos, road names, and more details.
posted 29 Dec 2021 by M. Burk   [thank M.]
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