Capt. George L. Kemp’s place in history as a wagon master in a Berks County militia during the Revolutionary War remains secure.

The same cannot be said about his resting place of 187 years in the Kemp family cemetery in Maxatawny Township.

The walled graveyard, surrounded by a cornfield, lies in the path of Maxatawny Logistics Center, a proposed warehouse park on a 300-acre tract along Route 222.

Preliminary plans on file in the Maxatawny Township building indicate a 1-million-square-foot warehouse would be constructed on the site of the graveyard, which is between Hilltop and Hottenstein roads at the western end of the complex.

Documents on file in the Berks County recorder of deeds office say the graveyard would lie beneath “the middle” of the warehouse.

While the remains buried in the cemetery and its mostly 18th-century grave markers would be relocated, the prospect of hallowed ground lying beneath a warehouse has sparked the ire of some township residents and historic preservationists.

Some residents formed Maxatawny Warehouse at Hottenstein Road, a Facebook page devoted to raising awareness about the historical importance of the Kemp cemetery.

“Under Pennsylvania law, this is an historic cemetery,” declared Anne Wagner, vice president of the Berk County Association for Graveyard Preservation. “Why can’t they just work the cemetery into the warehouse complex design?”

Concern over the logistics center’s impact on local history comes as warehouses are playing an increasingly important role in the Berks economy.

Amazon has announced it will pay $15 an hour to start, more than double the state’s minimum wage of $7.25, when it moves into a warehouse near Shartlesville next year.

Pamela Shupp Menet, the county’s economic development director, said warehouse wages are beginning to rival those in the manufacturing sector.

“Berks County is experiencing the effects of the e-commerce boom that is driving the warehouse and logistics markets in the northeastern U.S.,” she said. “As the county’s job base continues to grow, the logistics sector will continue to be a large component of that growth.”

As public discourse evolves in the coming months, it is likely to center on an increasingly familiar theme: How to balance reverence for the past against the present needs of a 21st Century global economy?

Historical roots

Dewalt (Theobalt) Kemp emigrated from Strasbourg, a city on the Rhine River, in the early 1770s. He is believed to have been one of the first settlers in Maxatawny Township.

Dewalt’s son, George, was born in Maxatawny in 1749, three years before Berks became a county.

George swore allegiance to the new nation, and served under Col. Daniel Udree in a unit of the Berks militia during the Revolutionary War.

Research by Lara Thomas, secretary of the graveyard preservation association, suggests George may have participated in the Battle of Germantown in October 1777.

In 1788, the Kemp family assumed ownership of the former Levan’s Tavern, which became known as Kemp’s Hotel.

George would operate the hotel, a landmark hostel along the “Great Road," a thoroughfare between Reading and Easton, which largely followed the Route 222 corridor.

During the American Revolution, the hotel was a hotbed of resistance to the British.

John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence and second president of the United States, is said to have stayed overnight in Kemp’s Hotel during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777.

Also in September 1777, a wagon train carrying supplies to the Continental Army bivouacked overnight on South Kemp Road, not far from the hotel.

George Kemp was accorded the title Esquire by Gov. Thomas McKean in 1800, according to Thomas, whose research is published in the current graveyard society newsletter. George Kemp was also a Berks County commissioner.

Brendan D. Strasser, librarian at the Kutztown Area Historical Society, estimates Dewalt Kemp arrived in America around 1720.

Strasser said there’s documentation that the Kemp, Wink, Siegfried, Levan, Hottenstein and Kutz families resided in the township prior to 1730.

George Kemp, who died at age 84 in 1833, is buried in the Kemp Family Cemetery, which was on his farm. So is his wife, the former Susanna Levan, a member of a prominent French-Huguenot family in Maxatawny.

Two of Kemp’s sons and a sister are also buried in the family graveyard.

Cemetery relocation

Duke Realty, the Indiana-based developer of Maxatawny Logistics Park, petitioned Berks County Court in June for permission to disinter the graves and relocate the remains and 18 headstones to a nearby cemetery.

On July 22, Judge Timothy J. Rowley issued an order granting permission to relocate the remains and headstones at the developer’s cost.

The petition to disinter, which is on file in the county recorder of wills office, cites a cultural-resources assessment submitted by the developer that concluded no descendants of the Kemp family could be found.

In recent weeks, however, at least three Berks residents have come forward with claims of being descendants of members of the Kemp family.

Brenda Winkler, who lives a stone’s throw from the proposed logistics center, said she is descended from Rachel Wink Kemp, who’s buried in the cemetery. Rachel was married to Daniel Levan Kemp, George Kemp’s son.

Winkler informed Nicholas P. Rakowski, Duke’s project engineer, of her relationship.

“He was very courteous, and promised to keep me in the loop,” said Winkler, retired Kutztown School District superintendent.

Winkler, a longtime resident of Maxatawny Township, understands the balance between preserving history and respecting the deep rooted attachment to the land in the Pennsylvania Dutch farming community.

”I don’t see it as taking sides,” she said. “I’d just like to see a proper handling of the graveyard, whatever that might be.”

Charles D. Wessner, who owns the Kemp cemetery with his wife Carol, said he’s confident that Duke Realty will be respectful in relocating the Kemp cemetery.

Surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, there is no public access route to the cemetery. According to the developer’s petition, it is in a state of disrepair.

Though the cemetery has not been identified as an archeological site, an analysis by Cultural Heritage Research Services of Lansdale suggests that archeological methods may be required to exhume the burials.

The cemetery contains 18 headstones ranging from the 18th to the late 19th centuries, the analysis says. Two names are listed twice, indicating there are 16 people buried there.

'Treated respectfully'

Dewalt Kemp, who died around 1760, was the cemetery’s earliest burial. Elizabeth Sharadin Kemp, who died on May 23, 1879, was the final burial.

Donna Welsh of Wyomissing traces her lineage to Dewalt Kemp, her seventh great-grandfather.

Welsh and her husband, Martin, done extensive genealogical work primarily through the Berks Cousins data base at the Berks County Genealogical Society in Reading.

Welsh's connection is through Rachel Wink Kemp, whose buried in the Kemp graveyard. Her research found that Dewalt Kemp was married twice and  Rachel was George Kemp's half sister.

The family's primary concern, Martin Welsh said, is that their ancestors be treated with respect.

"Our first choice would be to leave the graveyard where it is," he said. "If that's not possible, we want to ensure that the remains be treated respectfully." 

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