Friday, March 30, 2012

Revisiting Most Endangered Sites: Historic Cemeteries

In 2010, Preservation Virginia listed abandoned cemeteries to our Endangered Sites list. Since then, we have had many people contact us for assistance with abandoned, neglected and vandalized cemeteries.

A few weeks ago I visited two cemeteries in Chesterfield County. One was in a wooded area across from a local school. The cemetery had a partially standing rock wall surrounding several grave markers. Every marker was vandalized in some fashion including several large obelisks that had been pushed over and broken.

Virginia cemetery laws prevent the desecration and vandalism of cemeteries; but unfortunately people continue to get away with it. And it is not only bored teenagers, last year I visited a church–owned cemetery that had been scraped by a backhoe, presumably so that room could be made for new burials.

A broken crypt and several older grave markers were in a jumbled pile in the tree line. What shocked me was that it appears that the church may have actually arranged for the backhoe work!

Preservation Virginia hopes that listing cemeteries to our Endangered Sites list has made people more aware of this issue and reminded people that cemeteries contain essential historical and genealogical information and —not to mention— the remains of someone’s deceased family member.

In order to provide cemetery preservation education, Preservation Virginia in partnership with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) is offering a series of Cemetery Conservation & Documentation Workshops. The next workshop will be held May 18-19, 2012 at the historic Christ Episcopal Church at 16304 Courthouse Road, Eastville, VA, located on the Eastern Shore.

On Friday, May 18th the workshop will run from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on Saturday it will run from 9:30 a.m. to noon. The first day's presentations will cover topics ranging from funerary symbolism to training in the appropriate care and maintenance of grave yards, to genealogy, mortuary archaeology and Virginia burial law.

The second day, May 19th, will feature on-location training sessions in Christ Church's cemetery focusing on stewardship issues for cemeteries, including techinques for photographing historic funerary markers, and identification of symbols used on grave markers, among other topics.

Early registration is encouraged as the workshop has limited space. The fee for both days in $60 and $40 for just Friday. Participants must attend Friday's session in order to attend the Saturday workshop. Both days of the workshop are held rain or shine.

For registration information, please contact Dee DeRoche at VDHR by email at or by phone at 804-482-6441.

In addition to the workshops, more information about issues relating to historic cemeteries is available through a blog established by VDHR's Jolene Smith, Archaeology Inventory Manager in the agency's Archives. The blog is available online here.


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