The Queens Village playground located near 4th and Queen Street in Queen Village, Pennsylvania is now a place of fun for kids, but it used to be a historic black cemetery. Formerly known as the Bethel Burial Ground, the land has been said to have at least 1,500 deceased blacks buried on the grounds between 1800 and 1864. The Bethel Burial Ground was the first privately-owned black burial ground in the city of Philadelphia. During that time period, blacks weren’t allowed to be buried inside the city of Philadelphia or in the white cemeteries.
During the early 19th century, people were buried vertically on top of one another, so one gravesite may have seven family members buried together. About one third of those buried there are children. Life expectancy was low in the early 19th century when people, especially poor blacks, died from minor illnesses. When the grounds were left unkept, the neighborhood started using it as a play area. Then in 1889, the city renamed the grounds Weccacoe Park, which meant “peaceful place.”
In 1910, the Mother Bethel AME Church built a park on the land. Since that time, archeologists have excavated wooden coffins from the area, but nothing has been officially recorded for the land. The Neighbors Association and friends of Weccacoe Park have raised $500,000 to renovate the play area. The residents hope that the Bethel Burial Ground will receive recognition as a historical place in Philadelphia’s history as well as a play area for the community.