New Castle County Hospital/Almouse Cemetery at Farnhurst The "Cemetery in the Woods"
Historical background. This cemetery is also known as the “Cemetery in the Woods” and is located mostly under the embankment built in the late 1950s for the I-295 ramp to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The graves that were not
covered up by the ramp are located in a triangular piece of land at the southwest corner of the Holloway campus, in an area heavily overgrown with trees and shrubs. The eastern border of this area is the paved road known as Baylor Boulevard.
Along the northeast-to-southwest edge of the triangle is a (currently under construction) section of the Wilmington to New Castle Greenway, and to the south is a partly paved road that runs along the fence bordering the bottom of the I-295 embankment. The entire DHSS Herman M. Holloway, Sr. Campus, including this triangular section of land, is part of a single parcel, #1000900007, with a street address of 1901 North Du Pont Highway, New Castle, DE 19720.
The New Castle County Hospital Cemetery began as the official cemetery for people who died at the Almshouse/NCC Hospital and were not claimed by friends or family for burial elsewhere. In its early years, it also served as a general burial ground for unidentified and/or unclaimed bodies from the New Castle County Morgue, and other indigent people from the area. The burials are indicated by small numbered granite markers, similar to the ones in the Spiral Cemetery, but laid out in long, straight rows facing east. The number of burials is not at all clear – different sources report anywhere from 2,399 to over 4,000. One newspaper report states that 85% of the original cemetery was covered by the I-295 embankment.
Various dates of interment are also reported. The cemetery was established when the Almshouse opened in 1884. One source says the last burial was 1923, while other sources say that individuals were buried here as late as 1933, and other accounts report burials as late as 1937. I suspect that once the Moore's Lane Potters' Field near Swanwyck/Castle Hills was opened (circa 1935?), no one else was buried in the woods at Farnhurst. The Almshouse itself closed in 1933,
and the building and responsibility for the cemetery were transferred to the Delaware State Hospital. More research is needed to determine all the sources of the indigent population buried in the cemetery. No one seems to know what happened to the burial records for this cemetery – they may have been destroyed in the fire that burned the building in the 1950s. Therefore, it isn’t clear who is buried under what numbered marker with one exception -- one of the death certificates notes the grave number for that individual.
Committee members Hal Brown and Kathy Dettwyler have begun work on compiling a master list of who is buried in this cemetery, based initially on the database “Delaware Death Records 1811-1933,” available online through the Delaware State
Archives. In this database, there are 2,454 death certificates that list “Farnhurst” as the place of death, including both the New Castle County Hospital (NCCH) and the Delaware State Hospital (DSH). Most death certificates are signed by the director of the institution and indicate where the individual was buried. Most individuals were buried elsewhere, but a number from the NCCH were buried in the Cemetery in the Woods, while some of those who died at DSH were buried in the Spiral Cemetery. Most of the death certificates have been examined, and a separate database has been created just for this cemetery. It
is clear from the death certificates examined to date that the majority of individuals buried in the Farnhurst Cemetery in the Woods were poor, old, single, African American men. One newspaper story claims that there are a number of Civil War veterans buried in the cemetery, but that has yet to be confirmed or refuted (it may have been referring to the Moore's Lane Potters' Field). Hal Brown has posted more than 1,000 of the interments to www.findagrave.com -- New Castle County Hospital Cemetery at Farnhurst.
The last time the cemetery area was cleaned up was sometime during the late 1930s or early 1940s, when the Director of the Delaware State Hospital, Dr. Mesrop Tarumianz, was able to get WPA workers assigned to the task. By 1958, the cemetery was again neglected and brush-covered, and the State Highway Department decided to cover up most of the cemetery with the I-295 embankment. According to a newspaper report in the Wilmington Morning News on September 11, 1958:
“[The State Highway Department] intends to erect a marker near the freeway embankment indicating that beneath the tons of earth was once located the cemetery where almost 2,400 indigent men and women were buried. . . [Deputy Chief Engineer Miller] said, “The Highway Department will clean out what is not covered up and maintain that remaining area in good
As far as can be determined, the graves were promptly forgotten, no marker was ever erected, and the area was not maintained. Today, the area is overgrown with tree, shrubs, and vines; a falling-down fence surrounds part of the area.
Additionally, the area seems to have been used as a dumping ground for many tons of construction debris, household furnishings, and garbage, including a couch and a washing machine. It will take a major clean-up effort to restore the cemetery to the dignity it deserves.
Until last fall of 2015, only a handful of individuals were even aware that the I-295 ramp had been built over a cemetery, and even fewer realized that some of the grave markers were still visible in the woods. Once these facts were brought to our attention by Hal Brown, committee member, the Friends of the Potter’s Field committee added the “Cemetery in the
Woods” to our charge for restoration.
Accomplishments to date. The following tasks have been accomplished for the Farnhurst Cemetery in the Woods:
An application was made to the state Cemetery Board to register the cemetery, which has been completed. It is not eligible for funds from the Distressed Cemetery Fund, however, because it is on State of Delaware property, and therefore should already be taken care of by the state.
Several committee members have trekked back into the woods to survey the area and see what work needs to be done to restore it. John McDermott and the grounds crew have done a lot of clearing of trash and brush, and constructed a ramp for access from the road -- making it possible to reach the site without wading through the drainage ditch.
Work continues on the death certificates from 1811-1933 and on the Death Book (1926-1933) at the Delaware Public Archives. Kathy Dettwyler is entering all these data into a searchable database, and Hal Brown is diligently putting the information up on www.findagrave.com under New Castle County Hospital Cemetery at Farnhurst. This work should be finished by the end of summer, 2016.
Priorities for the future. Several committee members will continue to work on the death certificates and database for those buried in the NCCH/Almshouse Cemetery in the Woods. Future plans include inquiring of DelDOT (or the State Archives) if they have any records of the cemetery, and cross-referencing the names of the deceased against various databases including the “US Civil War Soldiers 1861-1865,” the “US Colored Troops Military Service Records 1861-1865” and Russ
Pickett’s “Delaware Civil War Memorial Project.”
Comments from Dr. Mesrop A. Tarumianz about the Almshouse Cemetery
Research at the Delaware Public Archives revealed the following comments made about the Almshouse Cemetery and the need for a new Potters Field in 1933 by Dr. Mesrop A. Tarumianz, recorded in the minutes of the monthly meetings of the Delaware State Hospital Board of Trustees, subsequent to the shutting down of the NCCH and the take-over of the land by the Delaware State Hospital. From 1933. #themorethingschange
Nov 2nd. 1933.
“On October 6th the New Castle County Hospital was abolished and we made arrangement to take care of 97 remaining patients, at the Delaware State Welfare Home’s expense. One wing of the building was thoroly (sic) cleaned, partitioned and put under a graduate nurse’s supervision.
“Price and Price surveyors of Wilmington, have completed the surveying of the property of the Trustees of the Poor of New Castle County that was transferred to the Trustees of Delaware State Hospital. The property includes an area of about 1 ½ acres, which has been utilized as “Potters Field”, this cemetery is in abominable condition. As I understand the commission of the Delaware State Welfare Home in Smyrna, will not take care of “Potters Field”. I recommend to request the Levy Court to purchase property near Wilmington, and create a new “Potters Field” for Wilmington and New Castle County. Also request the Levy Court to appropriate sufficient funds to fence up the present “Potters Field” after proper cleaning, refilling, draining and possibly planting some few trees, etc. in the same. In case the Levy Court will not agree to re-establish decent conditions in the present “Potters Field” I suggest the Board to authorize to spend the sum of $200.00 for this purpose.”
“Since it is the desire of the Board that the “Potters Field” should be located in a section apart from the Delaware State Hospital grounds, Dr. Prickett moved that the Building committee be authorized to communicate with the New Castle County Levy Court and the State Welfare Commission, regarding the establishment of a new “Potters Field.”
December 7th. 1933.
“As per your authorization the members of the Building Committee and your Superintendent met with the members of the State Welfare Commission and the representatives of the New Castle County Levy Court on Nov. 13th. Those present were, Mr. Gawthrop, Mr. Hall, Dr. Tarumianz, representing the Delaware State Hospital, Dr. Candee, and Mr. Metten, representing the State Welfare Commission, Mr. Speakman, Mr. Lester and Mr. Wigglesworth representing the New Castle County Levy Court. It was decided to establish a new “Potters Field” for New Castle County, far away from the State Hospital. The Building Committee and myself agreed to take care of all the requests for “Potters Field” until April 1st. thus giving the Levy Court and State Welfare Commission ample time to purchase land and establish their new cemetery.
Two newspaper articles from 1920 & 1993 about the NCCH/Almshouse Cemetery in the woods -- "Potter's Field -- Last Home of State's Derelicts: 1676 White Stones Mark Burial Spots of City's Derelicts" (1920) and "Potter's Field -- Final Haven for Friendless: County's Acre at Farnhurst Hides Life's Ghastly Failures"
Two newspaper articles about the Almshouse Cemetery published in the Delmarva Star, one in 1920, the other in 1933. Note that the second one repeats many of the same sentences as the first one! "Flotsam & jetsam . . . "
|File Size:||17 kb|