When you buy an old church property or a piece of land with a cemetery on the grounds, you'll want to pay as much attention to the cemetery as you do the building during cleanup and restoration. If the cemetery has been without a groundskeeper, it may suffer from some overgrowth and neglect. Although the process may seem daunting, particularly with a large cemetery, it doesn't have to be. Here are some tips to help you get started with a restoration project.
Start with a Plan
The best way to put everything into perspective is to get organized. Going into a cemetery restoration without a solid plan can leave you feeling scattered, and may result in things being missed. Particularly if you're trying to restore a historical cemetery, public impressions are important – and missed details won't reflect well.
Take time to develop a solid plan for your restoration. Consider how you will document the property, including each gravesite, and put the process in writing. Then, you will need to identify and detail how you'll treat the issues you're seeing. You may need to address things like gravestone restoration and heavy landscaping.
Put all of this in writing and create a solid proposal for the restoration process. This proposal will be a key component for you to get the approvals and support that you need from the town's conservation officials . Take your new property deed for evidence of ownership and present your plan to the town or county conservation office. They will tell you if there are any restoration permits required.
Survey the Whole Site
You'll need a full survey sheet documenting the property and the condition of every gravesite. You may find it easier to recruit volunteers who are familiar with identifying various types of monuments and the process of no tainting condition. By working with people who can all conform to the same notation standards, you will have consistency in the property plan and all relevant notes.
Take the time to ensure that someone records all of the inscriptions on the headstones that you will be restoring. By writing these down before you start your restoration, you will have a clearly identifiable goal to attain. In addition to these notes, ask that all volunteers notate the materials that each headstone is made from, if it is identifiable. The more information you have in your property survey, the better prepared you can be when you start restoration.
Evaluate the Gravesite Condition Reports
Sort through the condition reports for each of the gravesites and sort them in order of severity. That allows you to address the most concerning problems first. If there are grave markers that have been broken, masonry joints that are crumbling or other serious problems, you'll want to be attentive to those things right away.
Objectively Assess the Landscape
Once you have a plan in place and you have identified what work needs to be done for restoration, you should turn your attention to the landscaping. Look not only at the condition of all of the trees and shrubs, but also their placement. Consider which ones may be problematic if the roots extend too far from the growth. Make sure that all of the trees are healthy, stable and free of damage as well.
You should also look at the lighting, pathways and any benches installed throughout the cemetery. Make sure that all of these things are stable and in good condition. Keep all of the designs and plants period-accurate. Don't try to put your own modern taste in the decorations, because it simply won't fit the time period of the cemetery. If you are uncertain of the actual time period, consider the dates on the gravestones. That will give you an idea of when the cemetery was active.
Final Restoration and Maintenance
If necessary, work with a monument mason to help you with any surface repairs and protections for the existing headstones. If you need to seal any stone for long-term protection, this is the time to do it. Then, establish a schedule for routine maintenance to keep up with both the grounds and the gravesites.
With the information presented here, you can start a restoration project for that abandoned cemetery on your newly acquired property. Some care and attention can bring back the elegance of the cemetery and preserve the memories of those who were lost.