On June 23rd, 1973, Hurricane Agnes roared through central Pennsylvania, causing inundating a huge swath of the Commonwealt causing widespread flooding and killing 50 people. In Harrisburg, 13 feet of water poured over the banks of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, filling basements and spoiling millions of dollars of property.
In one of those basements sat the records of the old Embreeville State Hospital and its Predecessor, the Chester County Home and Insane Asylum. The home was founded in 1800, its first charge, the famed Indian Hannah, last of the Lenni Lenape in Chester County, being admitted in 1802. Through the years thousands of people were cared for there, and many hundreds died and were buried in its potters field. That the records were destroyed is most unfortunate; the graves in that cemetery are unmarked, or marked only with one of 201 numbered stones. Finding who was buried there would be a monumental task.
Some names could be found through newspaper clippings. One clipping from the October 18, 1875 issue of the Daily Local News shows that “Henry Miller, an old man of 70 years or more, well known in North Coventry and East Coventry as “the stone picker,” disappeared mysteriously on the 26th of July last, and his friends could not hear anything of him…Recently, however, some person wrote to the Steward of the Chester County Poor House, and made inquiries about him, and received a reply that Miller had been there some time, but that he had left only a few days ago—to be carried to the resting place in the grave. Poor old man–the “old sexton” has gather him in, and he will pick stones on the highways and by-ways no more.”
Others would be more difficult. Fortunately the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has partnered with Ancestry.com to digitize its death certificates through 1963. By narrowing the search to Embreeville or West Bradford Township, where the County Home was located, as the place of death, I managed to find nearly 200 names of those buried there. Vile murderers such as Ricardo Forte share the ground with veterans, the homeless, and those poor unfortunate souls locked away fro mental disorders and epilepsy.Unfortunately this only covers a portion (1906 – ca. 1940) of the Home’s history, and does not include those who died elsewhere in the county. But this is a good start, and perhaps one day an alternate source of information will be found.