Washington Ave. Case Study: The Transformation of the Union Burial Ground

A Temple University economic geographer, Sanjoy Chakravorty, writes in his study of Indian industrialization that “even post industrial growth, which is characteristic of the more developed nations today, is based on the foundations created by industrial growth.”  As Philadelphia begins to take on the trappings of a global city, its new residents connected to distant countries and capital, Chakravorty’s observation calls us to look at the ways in which the spatial realities of the industrial city are being reworked to meet the needs of a more global Philadelphia.



Clearly Washington Avenue, once a distinctive functional district of the industrial Philadelphia, is being reworked to fit the postindustrial needs of an increasingly diverse city.  Along the western side of Washington Ave., the historically large building footprints, good access to highways, and the two lane median for loading and unloading goods all make the corridor ideal for building supply wholesalers.  In fact, the two lane median still functions much like the two track railroad that ran down the center of the Avenue until the 1970s.  The building boom of the past decade has grown the building supply wholesale industry, some now under Chinese ownership.



Just as the building wholesalers have developed a symbiotic relationship with contractors active in residential reinvestment, a similar relationship has developed with the ethnic food stores and their own network of wholesalers.  With good access to the Food Distribution Center further south, and an increasing population of Chinese, Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese, large warehouse properties and other disused tracts of land have been repurposed as supermarkets and wholesalers.

While no good research exists to explain how ethnic savings rates, commercial loaning from ethnic banks and strong patronage of ethnic supermarkets have combined to catalyze this transformation of Washington Avenue’s built environment, clearly Southeast Asian communities have developed the financial instruments and the capital to make these reinvestments.  Over the past quarter century, the advantageous land conditions, precise application of ethnic capital and consistent immigration rates have turned Washington Ave. into a vibrant culinary corridor.



The transformation of the Union Burial Ground at 6th and Washington serves as an ideal case study for this process.  Union probably received the most of its interees during the mid to late 19th century, with politicians of middling rank like Congressman Lemuel Paynter and Civil War soldiers buried there.  Because they are reliant on the relatives living close by for their care and upkeep, cemeteries’ conditions can diagnose larger neighborhood transitions.  By the early 1960s, with Delaware Expressway lacerating the heart of Southwark, the declining industrial utility of Washington Ave. and the construction of the racially divisive Southwark Plaza, Union’s stewardship naturally declined.  By 1970, the residents of Union were disinterred and the parcel offered for redvelopment.




26 thoughts on “Washington Ave. Case Study: The Transformation of the Union Burial Ground

    1. I had an ancestor who was buried there, according to Philadelphia death certificates. After her husband died, she shows up in the interment records at Woodlands Cemetery. Most of the interments in older cemeteries were moved like that — another ancestor was moved from Monument Cemetery to what is now Lawnview in Rockledge, Montgomery County./

  1. When I was bike commuting to work from Northeast Philly to the old Defense Personnel Support Center (20th & Oregon) in the early 90s there was almost nothing happening on Washington Ave. A huge U Haul storage center and a cheese processing plant were about it. It’s nice to see the neighborhood being revitalized.

  2. I was a Phila. Police Officer in 1967 and the Union Burial Grounds was on my sector. I remenber it totally over grown trash, vandalized,dump a forsaken place. I was told the remains where taken to a mass grave somewhere in Pa. Part of the wall remains. If your are in the area visit the Acme Mkt. at 10th and Reed part of the old Moyamensing Prison wall is still there,same wall as Union. By Pats steaks the large base ball field was also a huge burial gounds

  3. I lived directly across the street from the Union Burial Ground and it was my “private playground” for many years…..

    1. where did you live I lived on Washington Avenue across from the entrance of the cemetery from 62 until early 70s

  4. WOW! Just speaking with old frends about this cemetery and looked it up. In the forties we used to play at the ballfields at 5th St. and walk through this civil war cemetery, look at the historic gravestones. Such a shame that Philadelphia destroyed so much of its history.

  5. At least 30 of my relatives,several generations, were buried in Union Burial Ground in the mid 1800’s. Yesterday I was told that they may be in a cemetery in Frazer,Pa. I have been unable to locate any burial records for UBG. So much for a Final Resting Place.

    1. Many of the remains were relocated to the Philadelphia Memorial Park; 124 Phoenixville Pike; Frazer, PA 19355 610-644-9150. Several of my family members were also removed and interred in Frazer PA. If you call the cemetery and give the names of your relatives they can let you know where they are buried in the cemetery, i.e., plot, etc. Hope this helps. Respectfully, Pat Smith

  6. Let me see if I have this correct:
    I own a large amount of land that I pay taxes on.
    I declare it a cemetery which is tax exempt. I sell thousands of deeded plots 3ft X 6ft for which I must keep the grass cut. After selling all the plots, I no longer cut the grass and allow my tax exempt property to fall in dispair. Now I turn around and again sell all the plots as one big hunk of land for which I turn a large profit.
    Forget about our honored “War Dead” who are buried there. Profit is more important.

  7. Does anyone have any old photos of Union Burial Ground? I had 20+ family members buried there. The remains were move in 1970 to Philadelphia Memorial Park in Frazer, Chester County and they have a Union section with the remains. Luckily, it was not a mass burial and they can add markers if you wish. I have been adding as much info as I can find to the findagrave.com site to try and remember those that were there. I also think it would be great to ask the city to install a historic marker at the site where the cemetery wall still stands.

    1. Chuck:–I agree about the marker. Union Burial Ground has such a strong following among readers; it’s would be great to memorialize the site.

      The Philadelphia Bulletin covered the disinterrment in 1970. The following photos, though macabre, tell the story of this migration.


      1. crd Thank you for posting those pictures from the Bulletin. I understand that what was left of the bodies were moved to several different cemeteries in the Philadelphia area. I have an old family letter that suggest that a number of my relitives were moved to Mt Moriah Cemetery from Union. When I contacted Mt Moriah I was told they were too busy to look for old burial records to tell me if my family was buried there.It is my understanding that Mt Moriah is in pretty bad shape itself , upkeep wise. I was told that the Morman church has a copy of burial records for Mt Moriah but I have been unable to find it listed on their web site. I made a trip to the Philadelphia Historical Society to look for records of Union Burial Ground but, purhaps due to my lack of knowledge of their catalog system , I could not find a record.
        While searching the web a few years ago I found a news film clip of bones being dicovered in a dumpster which were believed to have come from a construction job at the old Union Burial Ground. It would seem to me that Philadelphia, which takes great pride in its past, would take better care of the final resting place of its citizens.

  8. CHUCK: Have you been to Phila. Memorial Park to see the site? I have not. I am curious to know if the grave markers were moved there also. I know that records of this cemetery are microfilmed in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (13th and Locust).

    1. Jeff & Robert,
      I’m not sure how this site works, but private message me via findagrave.com. I found your family name within UBG records. I am more than happy to share what I found. I added most of the folks from UBG, so it’s easy to find me there.

      1. This is an old post I’m replying to but have family that were buried at UBG especially looking for John Applegate died July 3rd company K in the battle of Gettysburg would lov to know where he or if he was moved to I’ve searched everywhere with no luck hope you get this Chuck thanks in advance
        Cindy Roberson

  9. No. I don’t know what happened to the original markers (I’m sure it’s not a pretty story). I did visit the new site and there are a few ground-level markers there, which is all they permit. On a positive note, they did bring the old gate. You can see it, as I added the picture to Samuel Hamilton on findagrave.com. I also added any ground-level markers that I could find to each family name, but I bet some are cover-overed by grass (there are not many). Hopefully, as people find there family, more are added in the future.

  10. “The lost Sixth Street Union Cemetery (Union Burial Ground Society)”…visit me on Facebook and post your stories and photos. There must be more of photos of me, please help.

  11. I spoke to Phila Memorial Park today and they say they have no record of my ancestors names from Union Cemetery. Does anyone know which other cemeteries the dead were taken to> From these comments I’ve noted Mt. Moriah, Woodland and Lawnview. Many thanks in advance!

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