Nafus, Stout, Saylor, Tompkins, Winter and Swallow. Street names in the Pittston and Jenkins area? Yes.
But also family names on grave markers in the 18th century Jenkins Twp. Burial Grounds. Also known as the Cooper-Blanchard Burial Grounds, the cemetery, just south of the Eighth Street Bridge, is steeped in area history.
Though overlooked and neglected in the past, the burial ground has been cleaned up, cataloged and improved thanks to a lot of hard work by Greater Pittston Historical Society President Ron Faraday, Jenkins Twp. Supervisor Joseph Sperrazza, sisters Mary Jo Leo and Cynthia Waskowsky and Sharon Marranca.
Marranca is a descendent of Conrad von Schiffer, one of two verified Revolutionary War soldiers buried at Cooper. She has paid a landscaper to take care of the burial ground the last few years.
The other Revolutionary soldier is Adam Wagner. He was verified through a letter in the GPHS collection. Wagner fought in battles at Long Island, White Plains and Brandywine. He was a witness to the surrender of British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York on Oct. 17, 1777. The surrender is depicted in a painting by John Trumball, which hangs in the rotunda of the Capital in Washington.
Among the characters buried at Cooper is Jeremiah Blanchard Jr., who is Faraday’s fifth grandfather and the son of Jeremiah Blanchard Sr., who is considered one of the founders of Jenkins Twp. and for whom Port Blanchard is named. Both Blanchard Sr. and junior were born in Rhode Island. Blanchard Sr. brought his family here in 1773 and settled in what is now Jenkins Twp. He was a Revolutionary War veteran as a captain in the 4th Company of the 24th regiment and was in command of Pittston Fort on July 3, 1778, during the Battle of Wyoming.
He and wife Abigail both died in 1807, but are not interred at Cooper-Blanchard. Faraday learned senior was buried in Butler Hill cemetery, which was abandoned in the late 19th or early 20th century. Many of the bodies were exhumed and reburied in the West Pittston Cemetery.
Blanchard Jr., who is buried in Cooper, is described in the Wyoming Republican and Farmer’s Herald as a super handyman who could fabricate tools from metal and wood and was also a de facto physician in an area and time where there were no doctors. He died in 1837.
There are 121 known graves in Cooper. Of the 121, 119 of the buried died in the 1800s. Many of them were born in the 1700s, such as William Day, who was born in England in 1740 and who died in 1829, living to 89, an extremely advanced age for the time. The earliest known grave at Cooper is that of Cordelia Blanchard, who died in 1794.
There were probably more than 121 graves. In February 1959, a mine subsidence — perhaps an aftershock of the Knox Disaster — opened a 30-by-20-by-30-foot crater near the center of the cemetery, likely destroying some graves as there is a bare area there.
In 1921, according to a 1998 story in a Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society newsletter, John Abbott took a census of the identifiable graves. He noted that it was almost obliterated by weeds and neglect. At the time the No. 14 breaker was adjacent to the burial ground.
Also from the story: “Descendents of the Winter and Thompson families complained about the condition 10 years ago, advising visitors to wear sturdy clothing and beware of snakes. Luzerne County authorities replied they clean the cemetery annually for Memorial Day. Today the cemetery is in satisfactory condition.”
That was written almost 20 years ago. Faraday said when he visited the site for the first time four years ago, it was overgrown and there was no evidence it had been maintained in recent years.
Last year there was concern the Cooper might be impacted by the proposed Penn East Pipeline. But Penn East agreed to work around the grounds, donated $2,500 and man-hours to the restoration and preservation efforts, which included weed whacking, grass cutting, headstone identifications through charcoal rubbings and measuring to create a map. A 25-foot flagpole was erected earlier this year. Other improvements being considered are information kiosks and park benches.
Sam Milazzo owns the land. When he bought the adjacent trailer park, since removed after flooding, the land came with it.
Among the other volunteers in addition to Faraday, Sperrazza, Leo, Waskowsky and Marranca, are John Weaver, Robert Linskey, Brian Machowski, Stephen Vitek and Cat Sparkes.