Old cemeteries need a living touch

  • Kirby

    If you have an interest in history or cemeteries, the Pendleton County Historical and Genealogical Society needs your help. The cemetery committee has many family and old community cemeteries that are in need of cleanup, and they are seeking volunteers to help with that cleanup and monetary donations to carry out work that volunteers cannot do.
    Since its settlement that started before the Revolution, Pendleton County has had a hand in the history of the state and the nation. Documents at the library, the courthouse, and the historical society’s Fryer House attest to the depth of the county, but arguably nothing provides more proof to the longevity and the spirit of our county than does its cemeteries. According to Suzan Taylor, president of the Pendleton County Historical and Genealogical Society, approximately 58 cemeteries dot the landscape of the 277 miles of Pendleton County. Most of those cemeteries are small family cemeteries or cemeteries of once thriving communities that are now a memory. Unlike the major cemeteries where many remember loved ones with flowers and gravesite care, these small cemeteries see few, if any, burials, and just as few visitors.  
    “[The cemeteries are even found] in hollers and thickets. Sad places,” Taylor said.
    This, according to Taylor and Ron Moreland of the Pendleton County Historical and Genealogical Society’s cemetery committee, has resulted in many of the small cemeteries falling into severe disrepair despite the desire to care for them properly. Over time, seedlings grow into large trees that overturn stones and damage sites. Bushy growth makes them hard to clear and hard to find. Because of this, damage to stones and gravesites can occur within just a few years.
    What is the problem with keeping these small cemeteries clear? According to Moreland, fundingand manpower are both obstacles. “When Henry Bertram was judge executive, the state was giving out $10,000 grants to counties who applied as long as they had a cemetery committee. The grants were to go for clean-up, and the counties who received them had to match the $10,000 with either money from the county through donations and that kind of thing or with labor, and once the clean-up was complete, someone had to commit to its upkeep. We couldn’t let it go again.”
    During that time, the county had a cemetery committee, and it cleaned up a few of the smaller cemeteries. Moreland recalled cleaning up Browning Cemetery on McKinneysburg Road, Palestine Cemetery on Milford Road and Smith Cemetery on 467.
    “We had some 25 people to clean up Smith Cemetery,” he remembered. “We had to call in a lift to reset some stones. Once it was finished, it was fenced in, and we had a caretaker.”
    The cemetery is in good condition today because of the efforts of the committee and those who have committed to care for it, but now the committee struggles to get help to do cleanup. Until recently, the county cemetery was disbanded, so the historical society has done what it could to clean up cemeteries that have fallen into disrepair. The problem is that those few who do help with cleanup are generally older folks who cannot do the heavy work anymore. Gone are the days of many hands and younger backs.
    And they have heavy work to do. The men and women of the historical society just completed the major cleanup of Hand Cemetery off Gumlick Road and Locust Grove Cemetery around Gumlick Road and State HWY 22. Ben Clifford received the bid to cut down trees that were overturning some stones and threatening others. Such work requires funding.
    “The county has put together another cemetery committee,” Moreland shared, “and I believe funds are left from the grant we got. The membership of the historical society’s cemetery came up with money to pay for the work [needed for the two cemeteries].  We need money and help to do more of them.”
    While the odds and ends such as raking and removing limbs need to be done at Hand Cemetery and at Locust Grove, the society’s main focuses are now Kirby Cemetery, found in the Boston area, and Lovelace Farm Cemetery in Menzies Bottoms. Both, according to Moreland and Taylor, are in terrible shape.
    “They are two of the worst five we have done,” Taylor confirmed.
    Taylor estimates over 50% of the county’s small cemeteries need caretakers and cleanup. That means the county needs a lot of time, manpower, and even long-term commitment to bring these places the dignity and respect they once held. The committee is even committed to adding GPS coordinates to the sites as the cemeteries are found so that maybe they will not be as desolate in the future as they have been in the recent past.
    When you ask why it is important to care for cemeteries that can be centuries old, you get a variety of answers.
    Moreland said that the committee asked the question, “If we didn’t clean up the cemeteries, who would?”
    Taylor replied, “It’s important because it is part of our history. Many of the family cemeteries have no one left, and if we don’t record them, they will be lost forever.”
    Fran Carr, member of the historical society and the library’s local historian and genealogist, added still more to consider. “It’s important because caring for the cemeteries is a show of respect. After all, the people in that cemetery lived and were loved by someone. Their lives had value and that value deserves respect.
    “Cemeteries also provide information about our past as a society. Information is more than the numbers on each side of the dash. The type of stone (materials and ‘artwork,’ i.e. the log for the members of Woodmen of the World, the ‘hand of God’ reaching down and the hand of the deceased reaching up to grab it speaks of faith; Masonic Lodge symbols, etc.) tells us about the lives these people and the lives of others in their communities. To a historian or even to a family historian, this is valuable information about , not just the person, but the community in which they lived.”
    If you would be interested in helping by donating money or manpower toward cleanup or maintenance of a small local cemetery, the historical society would like to hear from you. Please contact Suzan Taylor via Facebook Messenger (Pendleton County Historical and Genealogical Society) or via email at fryerhouse41006@gmail.com for more information.