The History of Mount Calvary Cemetery – McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania
Mount Calvary Cemetery is a nineteenth century cemetery located at 1715 Middletown Road, McKees Rocks, PA 15136, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, approximately 3 miles outside of Pittsburgh. It was originally named Clever Cemetery and was part of the Clever family farm property in Robinson Township, although changes in municipal jurisdictions now find the property straddling McKees Rocks Borough and Kennedy Township. In May, 1852, Mr. Martin Clever, Sr. “kindly donated one acre (valued $110 ~) for the site & burial ground of an Evangelical Lutheran Church.” On Sunday, February 27, 1853, the first service of the church was conducted by Rev. Henry Reck of Birmingham (now the South Side of Pittsburgh) in the home of Martin Clever. A week later in the same home, Monday evening, March 7, 1853, Rev. William A. Passavant of Pittsburgh conducted a similar service in which Ephraim J. Brooks, Martin Clever, Jr. and Cornelius Scully were appointed as the church building committee. A fund of $1,000 was soon raised through subscriptions “and the aid of several ladies,” and John Glass of Pittsburgh was contracted to build the small frame church for that sum. “The work was at once begun & pushed through with unusual vigor.”
While the church was being built, monthly religious services continued to be held in the house of Martin Clever, Sr. Upon completion, the church was “dedicated to the worship of the Trinnety (sic),” and received the name of Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, on September 4, 1853, with Rev. William A. Passavant, Rev. Henry Reck, and Rev. F. W. Tuerk of the Lutheran Church being assisted by Rev. Jennings of the Presbyterians. The congregation of nine members was constituted on November 12, 1853, and Rev. Milton Valentine was called as pastor to conduct services every other Sunday for $100, “payable semi-annually.” Rev. Valentine served only until May 1 of the following year, 1854.
The first parsonage for Mt. Calvary was erected at the cemetery in 1854, and the congregation was legally chartered on October 18, 1855. On November 26, 1855, Martin Clever and his wife sold another acre to Mt. Calvary for $1.00 and an additional three acres on September 1, 1860 for $350 (ten more acres were purchased from the Clever heirs in 1912, and another ten were purchased from the Heinauer heirs in 1920). In the spring of 1890, part of the cemetery ground was leased to an oil company. Three wells were subsequently drilled, and the congregation began “reaping dividends at the rate of $100 a day.” When the church had amassed about $6,000, it was decided to rebuild the church. The new church building was dedicated by Pastor J. Q. Waters on February 22, 1891, with a sermon preached by Rev. William A. Passavant.
Isolated in a rural field and uphill from the growing town of McKees Rocks, it was decided to build a third house of worship in town only five years later. On May 31, 1896, three lots on the corner of Furnace Street and Chartiers Avenue were bought from John A. McKee. The cornerstone was laid on May 9, 1897, and the church was dedicated by Pastor Robert R. Durst on November 21, 1897. Total cost for the site and building came to $6900. In 1903, the original parsonage at the cemetery was torn down, and in 1907, a new parsonage was built on Mary Street in McKees Rocks at a cost of $7300, the same year that the McKees Rocks church building was raised above flood level at a cost of $1300. The congregation continued to conduct services at both the cemetery and McKees Rocks churches, known as the “upper” and “lower” churches, until 1911, when those at the cemetery church were discontinued except for funerals. The upper church at the cemetery was finally razed in 1923.
In 1920, the second parsonage in McKees Rocks was sold, and property on the corner of Dale Street and Russelwood Avenue in neighboring Stowe Township was purchased for $10,500. Ground was broken on November 16, 1924, and a fourth church for the Mt. Calvary congregation was built for $78,000, incorporating the tower bell from the first Mt. Calvary church. Rev. John J. Myers presided over the dedication on October 18, 1925. Burials at the Mt. Calvary cemetery continued without any church structures on the property, although the church owned a house across the street from the cemetery at 1600 Middletown Road (Chartiers Avenue Ext.) for the use of the cemetery sexton. In 1959, the original church building site on the eastern edge of the cemetery, which had been left undeveloped since the upper church was razed, was prepared for use as additional burial lots. In 1960, the church council decided to raise $30,000 to build a new home and office for the Sexton at the cemetery and grading additional ground for burial plots, and an architect was hired to draw up plans for a new sexton’s home on sections K-1 and K-2, at the western edge of the cemetery. However, such a building was never constructed.
Instead, in the spring of 1962, Mt. Calvary approached Joseph Bayer, owner of the Bayer Dairy adjacent to sections K-1 and K-2 of the cemetery, about the possibility of purchasing the dairy property. In March, 1963, the congregation bought the building and property from Bayer for $24,000, which extended the cemetery property to Howard Street. Subsequently, plans for building on sections K-1 and K-2 were abandoned, and this portion of the cemetery property was converted to use as burial lots, the sale of which over time was expected to offset the purchase price of the Bayer property as well as construction costs for a new house and office. By September 1963, plans for a new building costing $23,349 were approved, and construction was completed by the summer of 1964.
The original Bayer Dairy building was converted to storage for cemetery equipment. Cemetery sexton Ed Schuler and his family moved from the 1600 Middletown Road home into the new home and office at this time.
In 1968, the congregation of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church gave up their building on Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks and merged with Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church to form Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Stowe building. The Mt. Calvary Cemetery retained their old name, although it was now owned by a new entity, Good Shepherd. That same year, the house at 1600 Middletown Road was sold to Ed Schuler, the last cemetery sexton to have lived there, upon his retirement, and the Schuler family would continue to live there for a number of years. Frank Deutsch assumed the duties of cemetery sexton in 1968 and moved into the sexton’s home and office with his wife and two children, residing there until 1986. The current cemetery sexton, George Demko, resided in the sexton’s home from 1986 until 2006. The sexton’s home became the church parsonage when Rev. and Mrs. John G. Bateson moved in on October 20, 2006.
Since 2006, Veteran Day services have been held at the cemetery in conjunction with several churches, Veterans of Foreign Wars Vesle Post #418, and American Legion Sto-Rox Post #618.
In July 2015, 108-year-old Emmanuel’s Lutheran Church of Bellevue closed its doors to merge with Good Shepherd.
Five years later, in November 2020, Good Shepherd sought guidance from the synod to consider its own closure and merger. The final worship service was held on June 27, 2021. On July 9, 2021, the Russellwood sanctuary and educational complex was sold and now serves as the home of Faithbridge Community Church.
On September 25, 2021, Good Shepherd members met at the cemetery chapel to vote to merge with nearby Ascension Lutheran Church of McKees Rocks (Robinson Township). The following day, Ascension held a similar meeting. The vote of both congregations to merge was unanimous.
Mt. Calvary Cemetery continues operating under the stewardship of Ascension Lutheran Church. The cemetery chapel carries on the Good Shepherd name, representing all the historic congregations that have merged into it: Mt. Calvary, St. John’s, and Emmanuel’s.
Compiled Summer 2010; updated February 2022
Mt. Calvary Cemetery 1715 Middletown Road, McKees Rocks, PA 15136 Office phone: (412) 331-0780 email: email@example.com
Ascension Lutheran Church 1290 Silver Lane, McKees Rocks, PA 15136 Office phone: (412) 859-3711 email: firstname.lastname@example.org