Historic cemetery occupies space on steel mill site
Wednesday, 16 January 2013 15:46

One gravestone bears the initials S.T., likely referring to Sarah Trotten, who died in 1856 at age 68.photo courtesy Melvin J. Mason Jr.

Trotten family graves date back to 1804

by Nicole Rodman

    On September 12, 1814, British troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross stopped at the Trotten family farm-house on the shores of Jones Creek, at what is now Penwood Park.
    Hungry and thirsty, the British troops came across the Trotten house. Though the family had fled, they had left behind homemade wine and cordials.
    After forcing a slave who had been left behind to sample the wine for fear of poison, the troops drank what they had found before leaving the house.
    The Trotten family would later return, living out their lives at their farmhouse before being laid to rest in the small family cemetery located near what would become I Street in Sparrows Point.
    As the Trotten cemetery grew, the town around them did as well.
    Steelmaking would begin nearby in 1889, first by the Pennsylvania Steel Company.
    In 1916, Bethlehem Steel took over the steel mill.
    Years later, in 1919, the Trotten home would become the clubhouse for the original Sparrows Point Country Club before it was relocated to its current location on Wise Avenue.
    Eager to expand operations, in 1952 Bethlehem Steel purchased the property on which the Trotten home once sat.    
    Today, though the mill property has changed hands many times since Bethlehem Steel took over the land more than 60 years ago, the Trotten family cemetery still sits on the grounds of the now-silent mill.
    Few realize that there is a cemetery on the grounds of the steel mill at all.
    While it  was a call from Sandra Cooke, wife of a former Sparrows Point steelworker, that first set The Eagle on the trail of the steel mill cemetery,  a call to Sparrows Point historian Elmer Hall revealed that the cemetery is, indeed, the Trotten family cemetery.
    According to Hall, there are at least four documented graves in the small cemetery.
    In his 2004 book Diary of a Mill Town: Reflections of the Bungalows and Sparrows Point, Maryland, Hall lists the graves as belonging to John Trotten, who died in 1809 at age 38, Sarah Trotten, who died in 1856 at age 68, James Trotten, who died at age nine months in 1804, and Thomas Long, who died in 1823 at age 16.
    A separate grave located a distance away from the others features a wooden cross bearing the name Ronald J. Dieter, though there was no other information available on this grave or its occupant.
    As Hall explained to The Eagle, the graves are located near what was the intersection of H Street and 9th Street, on the border between what was then the white and black areas of Sparrows Point.
    As Hall noted, Sparrows Point’s smallest cemetery was also its only cemetery; there were seven churches but no cemeteries in Sparrows Point.
    According to Hall, a special hearse-like streetcar called “the Delores” would transport bodies from Sparrows Point to be interred elsewhere in the area.
    While few realize the existence of the Trotten family cemetery, at least one local resident has been working to ensure that the cemetery is recognized as a historical landmark.
    In 2004, Northship Road resident Steven P. Strohmier submitted a request to the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites seeking recognition for the small cemetery.
    In October 2012, Melvin J. Mason Jr., chair of the Coalition’s Outreach Committee, visited the graveyard to take pictures and document what he could find.
    A report on the cemetery and its historical significance was compiled soon after.
    It appears that current mill owners Hilco and Environmental Liability Transfer (ELT) were not aware of the small cemetery until asked about it by The Eagle last week.
    In an e-mail to The Eagle, Hilco chief marketing officer Gary Epstein explained, “I was not aware of the cemetery, but the steelworker that you spoke with is correct. There is in fact a cemetery on the site.”
    He continued, “The cemetery is located in an area that is removed from any active work at the site currently and we are protecting it and maintaining it properly.  It lays within a secured area of the Sparrows Point Mill and is being treated appropriately as a sacred ground.”
    Epstein also noted in his remarks that the company will provide access to the cemetery to any descedents who may want to visit the site.
    Interested individuals must submit their names in advance of their visit so that they can pass through the mill’s security.
    While Hilco owns much of the equipment on the mill site, it is actually ELT that owns the land, including the cemetery.
    Officials with ELT did not respond to inquiries by press time.
    However, Epstein was quick to note that the cemetery is currently secured.
    “Note – we are a long way away from completing the asset sale and demo work and this particular area is safely secured,” he explained last week.
    In the meantime, the Trotten family cemetery will sit quietly where it has for two centuries.
    Predating — and outliving — the mill and town that grew up to surround it, the cemetery provides an important link to a tumultuous era in the history of the community.