I’d read that Altoona’s Fairview Cemetery offers beautiful views of the small city of Altoona. But the same reviews noted the cemetery was also very neglected. Both are true, at least as of my visit. I’d arrived early in Altoona for a trip with other travel writers to explore its historic sites and tourist attractions.
This is a cemetery that appeals to tombstone tourists and urban explorers.
Fairview Cemetery is a forlorn place, lacking easily found records of its history. However, one of the reviews noted there are many headstones dating back to the late 1700 to 1800s. The earliest stones I saw dated to the late 1800s, but most were illegible. The forces of nature, pollution and vandals either eroded or destroyed them.
I spent an hour exploring and photographing the cemetery — a long time considering its relatively small size. This place could double as the set of a horror movie. It was beautiful. It was eerie. Tombstone tourists and cemetery photographers dream of exploring a cemetery like this. But it was also sad, a terrible example of urban decay and abandonment.
Fairview Cemetery holds few notable tombstones, in terms of sculpture, reflecting, of course, the working class status of its inhabitants. I did note at least two metal tombstones, which were much more expensive than those carved from stone.
Walking through the cemetery was also dangerous. The unmowed grasses hide rodent holes and broken tombstones. As another reviewer noted, “This place holds history in this town and yet is highly neglected.” Truth.
Railroading has always been central to Altoona. In 1849, the Pennsylvania Railroad decided that the area was ideal for a shop and maintenance complex, as it was central to both logging and coal industries, and just over the Allegheny range from Pittsburgh. The Civil War created a high for locomotives, stimulating Altoona’s growth between 1861 to 1865.
Because of the rail lines leading into the town, the growing town hosted the War Governors’ Conference, which brought together 13 governors of Union states in September 1862 as well as the very first Interstate Commission meeting to create and design the Gettysburg National Cemetery following the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The town’s fortunes rose and then, unfortunately, fell, with the railroading industry. Several of its most important tourist attractions focus on the railroad industry.
Altoona certainly supported the United States in other ways during the Civil War. I noted several graves of the city’s young men at Fairview Cemetery’s monument honoring its war dead. The dates indicated they died during several well known battles, including at the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpesburg, MD.
Know Before You Go to Fairview Cemetery
Go prepared, with sturdy hiking boots and long pants to protect you from ankle twists and ticks. Drive carefully on its lanes as some of the potholes are axle breakers.
Getting there: 1611 9th St, Altoona, PA
Website: Fairview Cemetery lacks a website.
Altoona offers a number of historic sites, especially railroad history! Check out the articles or websites below:
Looking for other tombstone tourism? Check out other cemeteries MidAtlantic Daytrips has visited.