WILKES-BARRE — On a brisk October morning, the mood was reverent in Hollenback Cemetery, as the autumn leaves contrasted with the stark grey of the mausoleums and gravestones lining the hallowed ground.
Hollenback Cemetery, one of the oldest in the entire region, is the final resting place for many Wyoming Valley residents, including the late Judge Jesse Fell.
Fell, a true Renaissance man in every sense of the term, wore many hats throughout his life, but was most known for his contributions to the anthracite coal boom in the area as well as being the first “mayor” of Wilkes-Barre.
Fell’s grave, perched on a hillside in the Slocum family plot, had bore the marks of surviving many harsh seasons. That was simply unacceptable to some, and the local community banded together to help rectify the situation.
The Hollenback Cemetery Association, the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution: Shawnee Fort Chapter banded together to place a new grave marker on Fell’s grave, helping preserve his memory for centuries to come.
The organizations held a dedication ceremony Saturday morning, gathering in the front of historic Hollenback at 11 a.m. and having an on-foot procession to Fell’s grave.
Daughters of the American Revolution members were on hand in period garb, as well as one of Fell’s own descendants.
“(Fell) was known for so many things,” said Christian Harvey Wielage, originally of Dallas. “He was a judge, the first burgess – equivalent to mayor – of Wilkes-Barre borough, a Revolutionary War veteran, a respected Freemason and a coal entrepreneur. He helped make this area what it is.”
Fell is Wielage’s fifth great-grandfather.
Fell, born in Bucks County, served in the Revolutionary War and then moved to Wilkes-Barre in 1785. He was the owner of Old Fell’s Tavern, located on the corners of Northampton and Washington Streets. He was active in governing the area, serving as a sheriff and a judge, as well as being extremely active in forming the Freemason’s Lodge 61 in Wilkes-Barre.
Arguably, despite his wide range of influences and roles, Fell was most known for bringing the use of anthracite coal to the masses and making it accessible for people to use in their homes.
“Without Fell’s contributions, Wilkes-Barre wouldn’t be on the map the way it is today,” said Tony Brooks, representing the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society. “His accomplishments helped pave the way for all of our immigrants to come here and build lives for themselves.
“And, of course, the Hollenback Cemetery Association is honored to host public history events to honor the lives and times of the people buried here.”