The Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel Church, will testify Wednesday in support of historic designation for the church's burial ground at Lawrence and Queen Streets in Queen Village, he said Tuesday.
The burial ground, purchased in 1810 by the Rev. Richard Allen, founder of Mother Bethel and of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, was in active use until the 1860s. Many prominent church founders were interred there.
Tyler will speak before the Committee on Historic Designation of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, which is reviewing a sheaf of applications, including Joe Frazier's Gym on North Broad Street, the Bethel Burial Ground, and the home of African American printmaker Dox Thrash.
The efforts of an independent researcher drew attention to the old Bethel cemetery beneath the southwest corner of Weccacoe Playground as planning for a green renovation of the playground took shape about three years ago. The researcher, Terry Buckalew, has documented nearly 1,400 burials at the site, which he says is probably a fraction of the total.
Earlier this year, Buckalew submitted an application to the Philadelphia Historical Commission to have the ground placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Such designation would give the historical commission jurisdiction over any construction planning.
Tyler said "the site deserves to be protected" by the commission. He added that a letter in support of designation would be submitted Wednesday.
"This is a great story," he said.
In the meantime, city officials said a preliminary archaeological site survey has determined that the burial ground covers perhaps a third of an acre, extending beneath a community building on the playground to the east and to a tennis court area to the north.