Mount Moriah Cemetery is a historic rural cemetery that spans the border between Southwest Philadelphia and Yeadon, Pennsylvania. It was established in 1855 and is the largest cemetery in Pennsylvania. It is 200 acres in size and contains 150,000 burials. It differed from Philadelphia’s other rural cemeteries such as Laurel Hill Cemetery and the Woodlands Cemetery in that it was easily accessible by streetcar; allowed burials of African-Americans, Jews and Muslims; and catered to a more middle-class clientele.
The cemetery closed its gates in April 2011 and had no owner when the last member of the board of directors died. It became wildly overgrown with vegetation, was a site for illegal dumping, and the buildings, graves and monuments fell into disrepair. A non-profit organization called The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery formed to clear overgrown brush, maintain graves, stabilize the crumbling gatehouse and raise money for a petition to place the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places. The Orphans Court of Philadelphia granted a second organization, the Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation, a receivership in 2014.
The cemetery originally occupied 54 acres but grew to approximately 200 acres, with some estimates as high as 380 acres, making it the largest cemetery in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia and Yeadon share almost equal shares of the cemetery with Cobbs Creek separating the two sides. After the construction of Cobbs Creek Parkway, the cemetery is slightly less than 160 acres.
A Norman Castellatedbrownstone gatehouse designed by Stephen Decatur Button was built at the entrance on Islington Lane, today known as Kingsessing Avenue. A single gated arch was topped with an imposing statue of Father Time. The statue was purchased, removed from the gate and placed atop the grave of John H. Jones, the former president of the Mount Moriah Cemetery Company.
The cemetery contains two separate military burial plots dating back to the U.S. Civil War that are maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Naval Plot on the Yeadon side of the cemetery contains 2,400 graves of sailors who were treated at the Grays Ferry Avenue Naval Hospital. A smaller plot of 406 graves known as the Soldier’s Rest is on the Philadelphia side of the cemetery. Mount Moriah contains veterans of the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War and 22 Medal of Honor awardees which may be the highest number of any private cemetery. There is one British Commonwealth war grave of a soldier of the Royal Scots from World War I.
One section of the cemetery, known as the Circle of St. John or Masons Circle, contains the Schnider monument, a 35-foot high corinthian column topped by the Masonicsquare and compasses dedicated to William B. Schnider, the Grand Tyler of Pennsylvania’s Central Grand Lodge.
The size of the cemetery made it ideal for churches and fraternal organizations that wanted to purchase large plots for their members. The Free and Accepted Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Elks, Actors’ Order of Friendship and American Mechanics all purchased large lots in the cemetery. Local private institutions such as the Presbyterian Home for Widows and Single Women and the Seaman’s Church Institute were also purchasers of large lots.