The following article appeared in June 30, 2017 issue of The Doddridge Independent.
Cemetery Preservation Coming to Doddridge County
Preserve WV AmeriCorps Member, Edward Pride, cleaning headstone at the Old Stone Cemetery in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
As part of my AmeriCorps training with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, I recently attended a cemetery preservation workshop at the Old Stone Cemetery in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, WV. This hands-on session, led by professional cemetery preservationist Morgan Donnally Bunn from Raleigh, North Carolina, taught me preservation techniques that we can and should implement here in Doddridge County. The work is not difficult or overly expensive, but it is definitely a tedious process, a true labor of love.
The Doddridge County Heritage Guild will be offering similar workshops to anyone interested in learning how to clean and repair headstones. The preservation grade methods and products that we will use will ensure that headstones are preserved for another 100 years.
As many of you know, I spend a lot of time visiting cemeteries throughout the county. I have found that many of them are in horrible condition. Even the ones that are mowed and manicured still have headstones that are broken, overgrown with vegetation, or worn and unreadable. Time and neglect can take a horrible toll on any headstone.
Our first project will be at our pioneer cemetery, the Old Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery on Blockhouse Hill in West Union. The first thing that needs to be done is a cemetery survey.
A survey is a comprehensive analysis that includes not only the geographical aspects of the area, but also an assessment of every single stone in the cemetery. The following information must be documented for each grave marker:
Type of material
Type of damage
Write short history on each person
The survey alone is very time-consuming, but fortunately I’ve been writing about and visiting these graves for the past four years. We also have older cemetery readings to help with the survey. The headstone cleaning process can also be time-consuming, with multiple return trips needed to allow the biologic solution time to work on your adopted headstone. Again, a labor of love.
The featured photos show you the scope of the work that needs to be done. Many of these headstones have to be cleaned, hoisted back on their pedestals, and stabilized with epoxy and mortar. Vegetation can destroy headstones, so there are several areas that will require a lot of shrub and underbrush removal.
The photos to the right are before and after pictures of a Civil War veteran’s headstone that I cleaned in Lewisburg. The cleaning process was not completely successful, as you can see, because someone had used spray paint on the name and dates in order to get a good reading. But with the biologic products that we will be using, even damage from spray paint and the effects of lichen can eventually be reversed.
The photos below are of Chapman J. Stuart’s (1820-1888) monument at Blockhouse Hill as it appeared after the brush was removed a few years ago and what it looks like today. The vegetation must be carefully removed using methods that minimize the risk of more damage. Living vines should never simply be ripped from a headstone. They must be smothered first using a waterproof tarp.
The photo below shows the headstones of Charlotte Potter Green (1797-1880), who I’ve written about in the past, and Anna Bell Duckworth (1860-1875), daughter of Israel Duckworth. With consistent work, both headstones can be made white and readable again. Additionally, the bases need to be leveled and the headstones mortared to the bases.
The below photo is of the Charter plot. These are the headstones of Lathrop Russell Charter’s first wife, Lucia Hale (1826-1867), and at least three of their babies. All the headstones have been knocked from their bases and are overgrown with vegetation.
The photo below is a picture of an elevated walled family plot that is dangerous to walk on or near due to deterioration of the cinder block wall. This headstone cannot be touched until the masonry work is stabilized. This is obviously more than just a routine headstone repair, in both materials and expertise. Hopefully, someone with the required skills will step forward to help us out.
Before and after photos of Civil War Veteran buried at Old Stone Cemetery in Lewisburg
Before and after photos, Chapman J. Stuart's monument, Old SDB Cemetery in West Union
Charlotte Potter Green and Anna Bell Duckworth, Old SDB Cemetery in West Union
Charter Family Plot, Old SDB Cemetery in West Union
I am currently working on the cemetery survey. I will let you know as soon as we schedule any headstone cleaning and repair workshops. This project is a huge undertaking, requiring both funding and manpower, but cemetery work is where my heart is. I am not a natural-storyteller or an author. The stories I share with you are often inspired by visiting cemeteries. I can read countless death records, newspaper article and census records, but everything seems to come together when I go stand by someone’s grave. That’s when the person becomes real to me.
I hope you will join us in our workshops and maybe take what you learn back to your church or family cemeteries. I will be posting pictures of headstones as we work on them and telling you about the people buried there. Like and follow the Doddridge County Heritage Guild’s Facebook page for workshop dates, photos, stories and updates. We will be putting the same information on our website www.doddridgecountyheritageguild.com. You can email me via the website’s Contact Us page, or at the address below. If we all pull together on this project, we can make a big difference in preserving an important part of our county’s heritage.
Jennings Family Plot, Old SDB Cemetery in West Union