Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: The Last Visit to the Kinzua Cemetery

Gravestone of James Morrison, Willow Dale Cemetery
Kinzua Cemetery had long been the burial ground for my Morrison family, one of the oldest families in Warren County, Pennsylvania.  James Morrison was a Revolutionary War veteran and a millwright from Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.  According to the oft recounted story, James was contracted in 1798 by Seneca Indian Chief Cornplanter to build a mill at State Line in the wilderness along the border of Pennsylvania and New York.  Along the way to the destination, the traveling party camped on an island in the middle of the Allegheny River at the mouth of Kinzua Creek. And the story continues that James Morrison was so impressed with the island that he petitioned the Commonwealth for the island and the surrounding property.  James and his family settled on the island by 1800 and there he died in 1839 and was buried in the Kinzua Cemetery near the small village of the same name that sprung along the southeast bank of the Allegheny River.

Fast forward almost 100 years and with the passage of the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938 it was determined that a dam should be built on the Allegheny River south of Morrison's Island and the village of Kinzua in order to control flooding further south.  Two decades later construction of the dam began and it was completed in 1965.  The resulting reservoir would completely submerge not only Morrison's Island, but the entire Kinzua Creek Valley to include the village and the old cemetery.  The memory of those buried in that cemetery would be preserved by moving the gravestones to the Willow Dale Cemetery, outside Bradford in McKean County, Pennsylvania.

The news of the impending deluge prompted my Great-grandfather Jesse Melat and his nephew Boyd Melat to pay one last visit to the ancient burial ground before the gravestones were moved.  My cousin Karen Campbell Britton remembers that the pilgramage to the cemetery probably took place sometime in 1959 and included my great-grandparents Jess and Lizzie Melat, her grandparents Boyd and Rose Melat, her parents Bruce and Betty (Melat) Campell, herself and her sister Beth.  These photographs, probably taken by my Great-grandmother Melat, document the visit.  Cousin Karen is pictured along with her grandfather Boyd Melat at the grave of our ancestor Zephaniah Morrison (right).  My Great-grandfather Melat is pictured at the grave of his aunt Cynthia Morrison Strong (below).  Karen remembers visiting the cemetery once again when it was "totally surrounded with high barricades [in the midst of] the process of moving the graves." She remembers "thinking how creepy that was."  Those gravestones can be seen today in the Willow Creek Cemetery.  A picture of Zephaniah Morrison's gravestone in its current location can be found at www.findagrave.com.


  1. It is nice that you have a picture of the original cemetery!
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. I also am a relative of James Morrison Sr and would like to know if I might be able to share your picture of his grave on my Timeline on Facebook? James Sr. was my Great, great, great, great grandfather.

    Linda L Cuthbertson Rabineau

  3. Very sad.i wonder if anyone in your family knows what happened to 16 mm film reels, used by a Morrison fellow in his 80s, yo give wonderful lectures on his life in kinzua?

  4. I believe that they may well be in the hands of one of his sons.

  5. These are wonderful pictures. I visited Willow Dale a few weeks ago, after studying my family tree. Walter Seaman, one of the first settlers in Kinzua was my GGGG Grandfather. My GGG Grandfather, Jeremiah Potter was also moved to Willow Dale along with several other of my ancestors. I know that there was a connection with the Campbells of Kinzua. I was sorry to see the current condition of the Kinzua and Morrison section. Several of the memorials are now sinking into the ground and some had the grass grown over top of them. There were also several memorial placks with "unknown" on them. It seems a shame that these pioneers had to be moved to their final resting place and now are suffering neglect in their new resting place. I believe that the government should take special care of this cemetery after all the families were put through.