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.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Life of a Soldier: Preserving the History of the American Civil War

Today we introduce another guest blogger. This post is written by Jared Smith. Smith is a young historian and educator in Danville, Virginia. He has a profound interest and love for all things historical since he was a small child, and he enjoys traveling and encouraging other folks to take an interest in their history. He is particularly interested in the American Civil War (he is an avid participant in reenactments of that period) and 20th century European history, with an emphasis on both World Wars and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

As many folks may know, the United States is currently honoring those who served in the “War Between the States” over the next few years as part of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. During those four years of 1861-1865, this nation was torn apart due to various political, social, and economic issues. Without getting involved with the political correctness of the war, Americans should be aware of the bravery, sacrifices, and legacy of veterans of the blue and the gray.

As Virginians, you can become aware of the legacy of veterans from both sides of the American Civil War by visiting battlefields, attending museums and lectures, and by witnessing a firsthand recreation of history through reenactments of important battles and military campaigns.

Over the next few months, I will continually update you all on the significance of the American Civil War, and the day-to-day functions in the life of a Civil War soldier. Since we are commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war, 2012 will be a fun and exciting starting point to immerse yourself in Civil War history. For example, there are many key battle reenactment events being held this year such Shiloh (Tennessee), Second Manassas/Bull Run (Virginia), Antietam/Sharpsburg (Maryland) and Fredericksburg (Virginia). I will post updates on each major event in the near future.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bacon's Castle Stair Tower Half-Plastered

The stair tower restoration at Bacon's Castle is a classic example of the enigma of historic structure repair. What started out as a simple replaster job mushroomed into so much more. Close examination showed the existing plaster loose, the bricks behind it crumbling, and the hewn white oak beam that was inset four inches into an eight inch wall, severely decomposed. Plaster removal revealed that the pavers, identical to the early pavers that made up the kitchen floor, had been used to make up the brick bond under the beam. The brick bond under the beam was Flemish, while English bond was employed above the beam. The brick used was very similar to the brick in the whole of the 1665 section of the house, and the mortar contained shell and charcoal. Visible at the lower left of the exposed brick photos is the infill to the early semi-circular window arch, later replaced by the only jack-arch in the entire house. Approximately 50 bricks, and of course a new white oak beam, had to be replaced to stabilize the wall and provide a good surface to plaster to. The interior of the brick wall was so uneven that 1.5 inches of scratch and brown coat had to be used to bring the wall flush. The crew will have to reset their scaffold to plaster the area above the beam.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Falmouth's Union Church: Making a Comeback from Endangered

For this blog post we are glad to welcome our first guest blogger. This post was written by T. Logan Metesh. Logan is Co-Chair of Fundraising and the Social Media Coordinator for the Union Church Preservation Project. He can be reached at

Since being listed on Preservation Virginia's list of Most Endangered Historic Sites in 2006, great strides have been made to ensure the Union Church's preservation. In 2008, the church was designated as a Virginia State Landmark and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then, in 2009, “Trustees of the Union Church Historic Site” was formed as a 501(c)3 to care for the church. The Trustees have done a great job spearheading the preservation efforts, but it became clear that the effort needed to expand if it was going to succeed.

A more specific fundraising arm, “Union Church Preservation Project,” was created in 2010. The Union Church Preservation Project has been actively pursuing preservation funds and spreading awareness since the moment of inception. A website and Facebook page soon followed to help spread the word.
In the summer of 2011, a grant from Stafford County, Virginia, was secured to repair the holes in the roof to prevent further damage from rain and snow. A series of clean-up days were held in 2011 to scrape and repaint the church doors, improve drainage at the rear of the structure, remove dead vines from the back wall, and clean up general clutter. In June 2011, the group held its first fundraiser and had over 40 people attend – a big crowd for such a new organization! It was clear that the community still cares deeply about the endangered Union Church.

A group of volunteers lowered the historic 1868 bell from the belfry in December 2011 to make the structure safe for roof repair work to begin. The bell will be returned to its original location once the work is completed. A roofing contractor has been selected and the project began last week!

2011 was a big year for the Union Church Preservation Project. However, 2012 promises to be even bigger! Our first clean-up of the year is scheduled for March 24 and our second annual fundraiser is scheduled for April 21. Other events this year include a bus tour in May, an open house and bake sale in June, raffles, and more!

Even though the preservation project is off to a strong start, we are always looking for more volunteers and, frankly, donations. If you would like to know more about this extraordinary structure, its history, and how you can help us preserve it, please visit our website,, and be sure to “like” us on Facebook by searching for “Falmouth Union Church Preservation Project.” We also offer t-shirts, coffee mugs, and more at

Together, we can help remove the Falmouth Union Church from Preservation Virginia’s list of Most Endangered Historic Sites!