Restoring Old Cemeteries

<< All album photos 11/16 photos
Cleaning out base with water.

by Hilda M. Fife, Theodore Brown and Lyle Littlefield
edited by Jonathan D. McKallip
published by Maine Old Cemetery Association
Updated 2005

Planning and Equipment

  • Choose a cemetery to work on; secure permission from owners of land or town officials.
  • Take pictures "before" starting work, "during," and "after" the restoration.
  • Clothing suitable for protection against heavy growth and sometimes poison ivy. Don't forget insect repellent, drinking water, lunch, other personal needs.

Possible equipment

For general cleanup

  • Saws
  • Scythe or weed eater
  • Ax (for tree roots)
  • Grass clippers
  • Rakes, light weight
  • Pruning shears
  • Lawn mower
  • Weeding tool
  • Edging tool

For righting a stone

  • Probe for finding a stone
  • Hand trowel
  • Garden spade
  • Tripod, pulleys, and strap
  • Measuring tape
  • Burlap or plastic bags
  • Tamping device
  • Sand, gravel, bricks

For cleaning stones

  • Brushes: nylon or fiber bristle
  • Work gloves
  • Buckets
  • Water
  • Camp seat

Procedure

  • Record cemetery location, both road/map location and GPS location.
  • Measure the perimeter of the cemetery. Look for an old fence line.
  • Record inscriptions if not already done. Check MOCA Inscription Project.
  • Include measurements of tombstones and the material they are made of (wood, slate, marble, white bronze, gray/red granite, etc.).
  • Create a plot map where each stone was found; this is helpful in recovering very old cemeteries.
  • DO NOT discard fieldstones - they are probably markers.
  • Cut weeds and tall grass. Trim about stones.
  • Rake up clippings, leaves, trash; put in bags and remove bags.
  • Clear out brush, small "scrub" trees; remove. DO NOT burn trash, brush or leaves inside the cemetery.
  • Prune or cut trees in moderation.
  • Ax out any tree roots that are heaving or breaking stones.
  • Repair and straighten fences, rock walls, plot border stones.
  • Probe for fallen stones. If a probe goes down the same depth (3-10 inches) at several locations, there probably is a stone buried under the soil.
  • Level up stones by hand (first loosen dirt with trowel or spade), or by gently lifting foundation with a tripod, pulleys and straps.
  • Clean stones with brushes and water only. (For stubborn dirt and stains consult an authority on safe materials.) Check with the Association for Gravestone Studies for current recommended procedures.
  • Avoid high-pressure spraying, especially on old stones as details and surface finish may be washed away leaving it unprotected from the elements.
  • Reset stones, repair where necessary.
  • Obtain the advice of a local monument dealer; check references.
  • Fill in sunken graves and reseed after the cemetery has been mapped.
  • Provide for a maintenance program. Forming a "cemetery" or "Memorial Association" is necessary. See state laws.
  • Promote your project in the local news media.

Dedicated to the Preservation of Maine's Neglected Cemeteries since 1968.
Maine Old Cemetery Association, PO Box 641, Augusta, ME 04332-0641
MOCA is a non-profit Maine corporation and is tax exempt under the provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

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