Norris City Cemetery, at the corner of Norris City Avenue and Stanbridge Street in East Norriton Township, Pa (map), was founded in the late 1850s by a private company, the Norris City Cemetery Company. Its development was part of the so-called Rural Cemetery Movement, and as such was nonsectarian and was not overseen by any specific municipality. Most graves were populated between 1880 and 1920, but the cemetery has remained active ever since. The cemetery is most ordinary: there are few elaborate graves and no notable people buried here.
The Norris City Cemetery Company eventually failed and the cemetery fell into disrepair. In the late 1980s, East Norriton Township, which has a park and administration complex ajoining the cemetery, acquired the property and currently provides for its upkeep as part of the recreational facilities of the township.
There are about 1800 gravestones in the cemetery, memorializing approximately 2500 individuals. It appears to be at about half of its capacity, but new burials are rare.
The history of the Norris City Cemetery goes back, not to an early cemetery or even an early church, but rather to a long-forgotten school house.
A very early school serving the eastern part of the township was, according to an 1815 tax-exemption certificate, “one farm, adjoining the property of Enoch Supplee and others, containing 20 perches, and having thereon one small school house of stone one stories and a burying ground. Note the above house is used as a house of worship as well as a schoolhouse.” This school, on the property of the Supplee family near the present corner of Swede Road and Norris City Avenue, was established before 1780, since a deed of that time refers to the “school house lot” as one of the boundaries. Read more…
John Supplee had been teaching in the school for several years until 1834, when he opened another school in Norristown near the Bank of Montgomery County. Another teacher, Lorenzo Dow Fowler, died in 1841 at the age of 21 and was buried near the school house. The inscription on his tomb read:
How short a course our friend has run.
Cut down in all his bloom:
The race but yesterday begun,
Has ended in the tomb.
Prior to the founding of the First Methodist Church of Norristown in 1834, the Methodists occasionally held services at the Supplee school house in Norriton. A notice in The Norristown Weekly Register of September 8, 1824, announced:
Divine Service is to be held in the woods in Norriton township, near Supplee’s School-house, on Sunday the 26th of this month, at the hours of 10 in the morning, and 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Four years later the Herald proclaimed on October 8, 1828:
By Divine Permission the Rev. William Mann and Abel Stevens, a young boy about 13 years of age, will preach in the woods, near Supplee’s School-House, in Norriton township, on Sunday the 12th instant, — Service to commence at 10 o’clock in the morning and continues during the day — provided the weather should prove favourable.
When old Enoch Supplee, the fulling mill owner and most recent owner of the surrounding land, passed away in 1831, his heirs, John Supplee, Susanna Jones, and Mary Supplee, put all the Supplee property up for sale, and John Supplee left the Norriton school for a new one in the borough.
Since activities at Supplee’s School House seemed to be closely related to activities at the new Methodist Episcopal Church in Norristown, it is interesting to follow the contemporary newspaper coverage of its development. On September 25, 1833, the editor of the Norristown Herald made the following disclosure under the headline, "Methodist Meeting House."
We understand the Methodist quarterly meeting conference of Germantown has appointed John Supplee, Samuel Supplee, and Nathan Supplee, a committee for the purpose of purchasing a lot and erecting a Meeting-House thereon for the Methodist Episcopal Church, in this Borough. The committee have bargained for a lot and are about making collections for the building. The money will be deposited in the Bank of Montgomery County.
The January 14, 1835, Norristown Free Press carried the following notice:
The basement story of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Norristown, will be opened for service, on Saturday, the 24th of January, inst., at half past 10 o’clock, and is expected to continue for several days, at which time there will be collections taken up to aid in defraying the expenses of the building. Several persons are expected there to officiate in the service, the brethren and friends are particularly invited to attend. — Wm. Gentner.
This was followed on January 31 by a notice that read:
In consequence of not being able to obtain Ministers on Saturday next, the basement story of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in Norristown, will not be opened for Divine Service, until Sabbath morning, at half past 10 o’clock, at which time it is expected that the Rev. Mr. Charles Pitman, or the Rev. Mr. James Brooks Ayrres, will attend... The meeting will continue through the week and perhaps longer.
With the coming of warm weather, there was a return to woods meetings in Norriton. The Free Press announced on June 3, 1835:
WOODS MEETING. There will be a meeting held in the woods adjoining Supplee’s School House, near Norristown, next Sabbath, to commence at 8 o’clock in the morning, and continue through the day. It is expected Ministering Brethren will be there from Philadelphia.
The woods meetings seemed to have been an arm of the borough church, for an announcement in the June 24, 1835, paper stated:
Mr. Watson, a lad about 17 years of age, is expected to preach in the Methodist E. Church in the borough of Norristown next Sabbath morning at 10 o’clock. In the afternoon there will be preaching in the woods near Supplee’s School House, about 1 1/2 miles from Norristown, at which time there will be a collection taken up towards defraying the expenses of the seats.
By April 1837 the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Norristown were ready to rent out one half of their basement for a school room. Another woods meeting was scheduled for August 15 and 16, 1840, “in the woods opposite John Supplee’s school House ... commencing Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock.” The Rev. John G. Wilson and John. S. Christman and others from Philadelphia were expected to lead the services.
With the passage of the Common School Law the Norriton School District purchased the school house, but the usage of the property apparently proceeded as before. The Norristown Herald and Free Press of July 29, 1846, carried the following notice:
By Divine permission, there will be a wood meeting held in the Woods directly back of Supplee’s School house on the State Road, 1 mile from Norristown, on next Sabbath, the 2nd of August, to commence at 3 o’clock P.M. The Rev. Daniel L. Patterson will preach on the occasion. A collection will be taken up for the benefit of the Sabbath School at that place.
The school house property, however, had already been put up fro sale several months before this time when the secretary of the Norriton School board announced the sale of “two lots of land containing 37 perches on which is erected a School House (known by the name of Supplee’s) situate in Norriton township fronting on the State Road and about 1 1/2 a mile from Norristown.” On September 14, 1847, ownership was transferred from the School District to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Norristown for use as a burying ground. Supplee family members had been buried there for years.
By this time there was strong pressure from Norristown citizens to prevent the opening of new cemeteries within the borough limits. Montgomery Cemetery, incorporated in 1848 and carefully located just over the borough line in what is now West Norriton, was the first new burial ground to comply.
A second cemetery company, chartered as The Norris City Cemetery, purchased a portion of the former Rossiter farm on Swede Road in (East) Norriton from Oscar and Friedericka Reichenbach in May of 1858. This purchase included two tracts of land and a strip of land, containing 22 acres 34 perches, reserving out of it the ground belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Church used as their burying ground and also reserving a right of way to Scheetz’s mill road. Soon thereafter the cemetery company obtained the adjoining Supplee property from the Methodist Church. The Norris City Cemetery eventually contained approximately 28 acres, with lots measuring 8 by 16 feet. The first 200 lots were sold for $10 a piece. The first burial was made in 1858.
The Supplee family burials were removed to the new cemetery, together with others buried in the old school house yard. The last major land transaction took place eighteen years later (1876) when the cemetery company granted the right of interment to the First Methodist Church of Norristown of lots 155 to 178 inclusive. The corner property, formerly belonging to the Church and once belonging to old Andrew Supplee, was sold to Valentine Henning. Farmland eventually covered the site of the old one-story stone school and meeting house and the Supplee family graveyard.
The first officers of The Norris City Cemetery were Henry L. Acker, president; John Stout, secretary; and Andrew Cochran and Jacob Monk, managers.
A stone chapel with a steeple was built on the highest elevation. By the 1920s it had deteriorated, and it eventually was razed. Some of the stones from that old chapel are still in the back yard of a home on Norris City Avenue.
When John S. Bond of Bridgeport died in 1892, his will directed that a trust fund of $1000 be established to care for his lot. By 1940 this fund had increased to $3147.16. The Orphans Court ruled that $1320 of this be used for building a road in the vicinity of the Bond plot and another $180 for improvement of the site.
For many years there existed an agreement with the adjoining Norristown State Hospital that two acres of cemetery land could be farmed in exchange for hospital personnel’s care of the cemetery grounds.
A number of military veterans are buried at Norris City Cemetery, including one from the Philippine Insurrection, 20 from the Spanish American War, 138 from the Civil War, 20 from World War I, two from World War II, and one from the Korean Campaign.
In February 1988, by a Montgomery County Court Order, the ownership of the Norris City Cemetery was transferred to East Norriton Township from the Norris City Cemetery Company in order to place the cemetery grounds in good order and condition. The cemetery located on Stanbridge Street next to the municipal complex had become overgrown with weeds, brush and high grass. Since the Township has taken over the cemetery, a great deal of work has been accomplished at the site to provide the area with the care deserving of a cemetery. Routine maintenance of grass cutting and trimming as well as tree pruning is ongoing throughout the year. The Township has also paved a horseshoe roadway which runs through the cemetery and has developed gates at both entrances which were built with stones of the old chapel which sat on the top of the hill at the cemetery in the early 1900s. Recently the Township has added vinyl fencing on the northern side of the property to delineate the cemetery from the grounds of the municipal complex. Although the township has not sold any new lots, the cemetery is still active with occasional burials on lots previously purchased. Read more…
The Norris City Cemetery is rich in history with its origin actually being that of a school house in the early 1800s. In 1847, the ownership of the property was transferred from the School District to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Norristown for use as a burial ground. Due to resistance from citizens of Norristown, no new cemeteries were opened within the borough limits. The Norris City Cemetery was incorporated in 1858 as the second cemetery resulting from this opposition. The cemetery, which consists of 28 acres, sold its first 200 lots measuring 8 ft. by 16 ft. for $10.00 each. The first burial in the cemetery occurred in 1858.
A number of military veterans are buried at the site including one from the Philippine Insurrection, twenty from the Spanish American War, one hundred and thirty eight from the Civil War, twenty from World War I, two from World War II, and one from the Korean Campaign. The Disabled Veteran’s Chapter #25 honors these veterans each year by decorating the graves with an American flag on each Memorial Day.
Each year, with age, several monuments have toppled over or are tipping to one side which becomes a hazard, not only for the visitors but also our maintenance personnel attempting to maintain the property. As a result the township undertook a major project by restoring as many of the monuments as possible thus restoring the property to its original appearance as much as possible. Much of the credit of this work goes to our loyal and hard working employees Larry Brown, who provided the guidance of the work and Michael Brumbaugh and Pete Scheez who with the help of others worked tirelessly and with much dedication and devotion built the gates to the cemetery, restored many of the monuments and maintain the site in its current state.