On this site in 1789 a log meeting house was built. A graveyard lay to the back of it which still exists and where some of the town’s early residents were buried. The graveyard can be seen on the north side of our present parking lot and includes the remains of close friends of Bishop Francis Asbury who first preached here in 1783. Friends he noted visiting and working with were local preacher Elisha Phelps and preacher and Revolutionary War Veteran John Bell Tilden. Rev. Elisha Phelps wife Elizabeth was Granddaughter of Jost Hite (early land speculator) and daughter of Colonel John Hite of Revolutionary fame. The oldest tombstone dates to 1809 and the newest to 1906.
There are currently 69 recorded burials in the graveyard and only 13 burials in the church cemetery after 1880. The Green Hill Cemetery began operations in 1873 and quickly became the Stephens City municipal burial ground. Most churches began the process of transitioning their burials to Green Hill rather than the church graveyard. In fact, some of the older graves were exhumed and relocated to the new cemetery at Green Hill. The newer cemetery was considered an improvement and family plots were more easily established. The old church cemetery plots were blocked in by the burials of other families around them. In order to have families buried together, family plots were established at Green Hill and family members previously laid to rest in church graveyards were then moved to the new family plot.
Robert VanMeter’s commented in 1938; “The Old Methodist Grave Yard was a burying place for the Methodist people of Stephen City and was established before 1815. It is not used now, but is well fenced and kept in good condition. The markers are in fairly good shape and can easily be read. From the inscriptions we can see that some prominent people of Stephen City are buried there.”
Ray Ewing informed Gunderman that back in the 1940s, the cemetery became filled with Locust trees and the tombstones were overgrown with weeds. Ray’s Grandfather had goats grazing on the cemetery property and Ray would be instructed to bring them buckets of water during the summer months. A simple American wire fence kept the goats contained inside.
Sometime in 1957-58, Rev. Henton stenciled the inscriptions on the tombstones with most likely the assistance of Mildred Lee Grove. Stephens City UMC apparently did not maintain precise records of who and when people were interred here and this effort was an attempt to record the graveyard markers before the inscriptions were lost to time.
Bobby Cook took over the church maintenance in 1986 and provided improved landscaping of the cemetery which was in poor condition. Bobby had all the Locust trees cut down and the stumps removed. Many tombstones had been seriously damaged due to wear and tear or lost through the centuries. In 1992, under the direction of R. K. Shirley, the Church Youth Group cleaned the tombstones and assisted in restoring the graveyard. There was some vandalism in 2010 and an effort was made to cement some tombstones back together. Contractor Scott Haines of Bernard F. Groves Monuments restored 13 headstones. The late Bobby Cook informed Gunderman that at least two wheel barrels of unrepairable tombstone pieces were hauled off. Thomas Emmett’s tombstone (died 1864) was once leaning against a 120 year old Elm tree in the back right hand corner of the cemetery. Also buried underneath the old Elm was Lewis Emmett’s footstone (died 1836). After the Elm was cut down in 2020, both the tombstone and footstone were donated to the Newtown History Center of the Stone House Foundation on September 17, 2020.
Many grave markers were made of wood and lost to the ages and there very well could be people buried without markers. The Germain Street section of the cemetery would also be the place where poorer immigrants would have been buried. In all likelihood the markers in this part of the graveyard were made of wood and perished over time. As recently as 10 or 15 years ago, there was still a wooden marker at the Old Lutheran Church Cemetery. It was removed by a lawn care service and accidently disposed.
There are depressions at the rear of the cemetery that would indicate deteriorated graves. The Church was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Some of the deceased soldiers were most likely buried here. These soldiers were exhumed and returned to their hometowns or national cemeteries after the war. The Stone House Foundation believes that the interments went all the way back to what is now Germain Street, formally German Street. It is the Stone House Foundation judgement that the Methodist Church cemetery is totally full. The cemetery remains a part of our Methodist heritage.