Immigrants from Sweden established Chester in 1643. Later, the English developed a dynamic community supporting maritime industries. Today, Chester’s population is 70% African American and exists as a cultural, academic, and healthcare hub in southeastern Pennsylvania. By all accounts, Chester remains proudly a “river city” defined by historic dynamism.
The Old Swedes Burial Ground, located just across the street from Chester City Hall, has fallen into disrepair. While major invasive vegetation has been mitigated, headstones have toppled, monuments are crumbling, and vital American history is literally being buried by rising soil. Included among the neglected grave sites is that of John Morton (1724 – 1777), an original signer of the Declaration of Independence (see Appendix I). Overall, our proposal includes the rehabilitation of over 180 monuments on the site.
The burial ground is located directly on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, the National Historic Trail which traces the route French and American allied armies used to get to Yorktown, the final battle of the American Revolution. Revolutionary War troops would have marched past the site on their way to defeat the British.
The act of monument rehabilitation presents a catalyst for community engagement, education, and celebration of the city. Furthermore, the project aims to creating broader educational and documentary content which will first serve the citizens of Chester, but also aims to empower other communities with a playbook on historic preservation and community engagement through historic preservation along the entire Washington-Rochambeau Trail as the country prepares to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.