Neville tombstones now on family grounds
By Meredith Polley
For the Tribune-Review
Thursday, July 3, 2003
Though it took almost 200 years, three tombstones nearly as old as the American republic have found a final resting place at Woodville Plantation.
The original gravestones of Revolutionary War Gen. John Neville, his wife, Winifred, and their son-in-law, Isaac Craig, have been returned to the family estate in Collier.
A small lean-to on the grounds is nearly complete, and will protect the three stones from further exposure to the elements.
The stone slabs are cracked, worn and faded. Only a few phrases of the original epitaphs are legible, and Isaac’s rock is in two pieces.
“In the old days, people were always buried on their own plantation,” said Nancy Bishop, president of the Neville House Associates, volunteers who run programs at the historic home. “Having the stones here makes us feel like we’re a real plantation.”
The associates plan to dedicate the new structure and the tombstones on Aug. 7 and 10. The event will coincide with a 200-year celebration of Neville’s death, on July 29, 1803.
Dressed in colonial attire, the associates plan to re-create the general’s funeral. Visitors may pay their respects at a closed-coffin viewing, and perhaps even hear the original eulogy.
The arrival of the Neville family tombstones — moved three times in the last two centuries — will fit right in with the bicentennial event.
“We’ll have something concrete, from that time,” said Dorothy Plank of Scott, one of the associates.
Neville was a close friend of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, and was a member of the Federal Convention that ratified the Constitution. He also was a tax collector, and his mansion known as Bower Hill was burned during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
Woodville Plantation, also known as the Neville House, was his original residence in the area and it now is a National Historic Landmark.
When Neville died in 1803, he was buried in an Episcopal church graveyard in downtown Pittsburgh, alongside his wife, who had died a few years earlier. His daughter, Amelia, and her husband, Isaac, followed.
Later, a surveying error allowed Presbyterians to lay claim to graveyard land near the Episcopal church. The Neville graves and many others were moved in 1902 to Allegheny Cemetery.
Over the years, the stones deteriorated and about 25 to 30 years ago a visiting descendant, Theodore Diller, decided they were in such poor condition that replacements would be needed.
New monuments were placed at the graves of John and Winifred Neville and Isaac Craig at the cemetery in Lawrenceville. Amelia’s original marker was in better shape, and remained at her grave.
Diller gave the three old markers to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. Albert Tannler of the foundation said the stones were kept in a garden at the foundation’s old headquarters at the Post Office Museum on the North Side.
Julianna Haag of Mt. Lebanon, one of the associates, said her husband saw the tombstones in the late ’70s, covered in weeds and dirt at the North Side building that now is the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum.
As the Neville House Associates prepared to mark the 200th anniversary of the general’s death, the Haags recalled the stones and contacted the foundation about them. The group ended up acquiring the stones, and moving them to the plantation grounds last fall.
Neville’s house remains a glimpse into Colonial America.
Woodville was one of three plantations built by Neville and his son, Presley, and it remained in the family’s possession from its completion in 1785 until 1973, when its last occupant, Mary Wrenshall Fauset, died.
At one point, the house was in danger of being demolished, but a group of women in surrounding areas campained to save it. The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation later purchased the property.
The Neville House Associates organized in 1976, to restore the home to its original state and offer tours. The home now is open from 1 to 4 p.m. each Thursday and Sunday, and for special events.
The elegant yellow and white house has antique furniture, original woodwork, family portraits and window etchings by Colonial visitors, and is considered an accurate representation of early American plantation life.
“If you wanted to go to Williamsburg, but couldn’t go that far,” Haag said, “we’re the next best thing.”