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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

“scrape, scrub and spray”


Denison Cemetery south of Bridgeport

Time has taken its toll on the older tombstones in our county cemeteries. One would not know this from looking at Find-a- Grave photos because most of those pictures were taken twenty years ago. Now many of those stones that were once white and standing upright are now lying broken on the ground or covered with moss and black mold, making the inscriptions impossible to read. These “history parks”, that capture the changing history of our county are in need of serious restoration. We don’t have much time to save some of these cemeteries.


The Lawrence County Historical Society is determined to do something about the condition of our pioneer cemeteries. Last summer, with the help of a small grant, volunteers purchased D-2 Biological Solution, an approved tombstone cleaner, and spent many hours manually scraping, brushing and spraying tombstones at Ridgley and Wright/Gaddy Cemeteries. (The solution costs $50 a gallon.) But these cemeteries needed more work to repair, restore and reset broken and semi-buried stones and volunteers were unable to do these jobs properly.


John Fish is a retired teacher who has an avid knowledge and interest in older pioneer cemeteries, as well as a deep roots in Lawrence County. He is also a state- certified tombstone restorer who has the ability and tools to do the work that is needed. Mr. Fish agreed to undertake the task of repairing and resetting broken tombstones, but unfortunately, in most cases, township tax funds set aside for cemeteries are only adequate to pay for mowing the cemeteries under the townships’ care. The repairs cost between $100-250 a stone depending on size and damage.


Last fall, family members, descendants of those buried there, genealogists, neighbors and lovers of old cemeteries heard about our work, and donated money to have the stones at Ridgley restored. For several years similar private fundraising has provided money to restore stones at Bethel Cemetery. Donations were set aside to purchase a sign for Wright/Gaddy cemetery. Donations were also accepted for work on the back rows at Denison Cemetery. (You may have seen the white stones reappearing as you drive south on the Bridgeport Road.)


The Historical Society has chosen to use some of the grant money as “seed money” for groups who want to restore cemeteries and who can raise funds of at least $500. The criteria for a cemetery to be accepted for one of our grants is that it be historic, in desperate need of restoration, and private donations of at least $500-1000 have been made. While this amount might sound daunting at first, one has only to see the result of the restoration work at Bethel Cemetery to know it can be done, when people work together.


So, this spring as you visit graves on Memorial Day, or do research on your ancestors’ final resting places, help us restore four or five other cemeteries this season. We will be finishing Ridgely, continuing at Wright/Gaddy, Denison and starting with Bell. Additional funds for these cemeteries would allow us to continue our restoration work as Bell, particularly, is a large cemetery. Moffit, Huston, and Day Cemeteries have already been suggested but any cemetery is eligible as long as the financial donations have been made. Start raising funds from those on your family tree, or adopt a cemetery near where you live. We have seed money to use but we need your help raising private funds.


Additionally, who doesn’t love being outside on these beautiful spring days? Get a group of people together and contact us about learning how to properly clean stones or just join our volunteers for a rewarding afternoon, as they “scrape, scrub and spray”, ( and maybe gossip a little) knowing you are preserving Lawrence County history.

While we are on this subject of volunteering, we would like to publicly thank Paul Umfleet, Larry Curry, Drew and Rick Darnold, and Brad Purcell for clearing the brush, cutting down some small trees, and generally re-discovering Huston/Umfleet Cemetery south of Sumner. To see the difference they have made, click on our You Tube Channel.


We were surprised to see that an unknown person or persons had been to Wright/Gaddy and cleaned the brush that was encroaching toward the stones. In fact the brush had even hidden a few from sight. We don’t know who you are but we are grateful. Don’t be shy, let us thank you publicly.


You don’t live in Lawrence County or you do live here but can’t physically help us? If you like to do research, we can still use you as we put together the “Dearly Departed” cemetery notebooks. To help with this aspect of our project, or to call about volunteering to clean tombstones, or especially to DONATE money, contact lawrencelore@gmail.com or contact Nancy King 618-240-2021, Marilyn Wagner 618-310-6452, or Donna Burton 908-208-2372 or mail checks to Lawrence County Historical Society, PO Box 425, Lawrenceville IL 62439.


Our April Monthly Meeting of the Historical Society will feature our cemetery project so save the date-- April 24 at 7:00 at the History Center on the Lawrenceville Square.


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