The LeMoyne Crematory
Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne was a man who got things done. He was a practicing physician, a devoted husband, a loving father of eight, the founder of Washington's Citizens Library, a co-founder of the Washington Female Seminary, an ardent supporter of abolition, and, it seems, a bit of a medical detective!
When residents of his community (Washington, PA) kept getting sick with the same or similar symptoms, many of them dying from their illness, Dr. LeMoyne became more and more convinced that the culprit was directly linked to our burial practices. He believed contaminated matter from buried and decomposing bodies was running off into the streams and water sources and causing the same diseases to strike new victims. Cremation would eliminate disease-ridden contaminants from leeching into the soil and water supplies and spreading the often-times fatal illnesses.
The innovative doctor, determined to stop the cycle of disease, set out to build a crematory. He approached the trustees of the public cemetery in the City of Washington, proposing that if they would give him permission, he would donate the money necessary for the construction of a crematory on cemetery property. The trustees never even considered LeMoyne's offer. Cremation was not a popular concept!
Undeterred, Dr. LeMoyne built the crematory in 1876 on his own land, then called Gallows Hill, now a parcel on South Main Street on the outskirts of Washington. It cost $1500. The simple, 30- by 20-foot brick building, in remarkable condition 123 years later, has a reception room and a furnace room. Using only sketchy information about how one of the world's first crematories was built in Europe, Washington resident John Dye planned and constructed the crematory building, and Dr. LeMoyne, himself, designed the oven. Flames would never touch the bodies being cremated!
The first cremation at LeMoyne's facility took place on December 6, 1876. A total of 42 cremations were done there, the last in 1901. LeMoyne, ironically, was the third person cremated in his own crematory. He died in 1879.
His family made preparations for his burial in accordance with his wishes: his body was cremated in the little building on Gallows Hill. Then the ashes were placed in an urn under a simple stone monument in front of the crematory. The inscription reads:
F. Julius LeMoyne M.D.
Born Sept. 4, 1798
Died Oct. 14, 1879
A Fearless Advocate of the Right
Today, the LeMoyne Crematory is administered by the Washington County Historical Society. The building is open for tours the second Saturday of May, June, July, August and September from 2 to 4 p.m. Special college and secondary school programs may also be scheduled through the Society's education director. Call 724-225-6740, write WCHS, 49 East Maiden Street, Washington, PA 15301, or e-mail the Society at firstname.lastname@example.org