tips for preserving historic cemeteries and burial grounds

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10 Tips forPreserving Historic Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

1. Determineand coordinate withthe congregation, owners, or governing agency responsible for the land.

Cemeteries or burial grounds may be associated with a religious organization, located on private property (which the descendants of those buried there might still own), or under the control of a state or local government. In any event, its critical to coordinate with property owners at the outset.

2. Start a support group.

A nonpartisan and nondenominational friends group can work as a neutral party in planning for the cemeterys preservation and maintenance. In addition, a secular group could be eligible for state and federal funding from which a religious group might be exempt.

3. Look for funding and partners.

Creativity is key, as there are not as many resources available for burial ground restoration as for other types of preservation projects. That said, their highly local nature makes them good projects for partnerships with historic societies or civic groups like the Junior League and Jaycees.

4. Pursue historic site designation.

It can be difficult to get a cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places unless it is part of a historically significant property or is in a historic district. However, getting listed on a state or local register is still beneficial, as it can make the site eligible for fundingas well as offer recognition and prestige.

5. Arrange for training. Having volunteers with the necessary skills (including surveying, stone cleaning, and resetting) can be a critical cost-saving measure in the restoration process. The National Center for Preservation Technology and Training is a valuable resource for more information.

6. Create a map and conduct surveys.

Having accurate documentation of what is on the site is critically to the preservation process, as it creates a record to work from in the future. The mapping and surveying process should include noting all graves (marked and unmarked), as well as pathways, walls, and fences (both for the perimeter and enclosures), trees and other vegetation, and any other features or buildings.

7. Consider future uses.Before moving into the restoration physical process, its important to think about the future visitation level of the burial ground. Is it in an urban area and likely to get a lot of traffic? Or is it more rural and therefore less likely to have many people wandering through? If you expect heavier visitation, take that impact into account when planning.

8. Prioritize!

Loose or unbalanced markers can be a safety hazard for workers and visitors alike. Put stabilization at the top of the priority list. Likewise, address any landscape issues that could be dangerous, such as unstable surfaces or crumbling retaining walls.

9. Develop a maintenance plan.

Cemeteries and burial grounds require significant ongoing maintenance following the initial restoration. A groundskeeper can manage the routine landscape work, but should do so in a way that doesnt damage or disturb the grave markers. In addition, all stones should be inspected periodically for wear-and-tear and be gently cleaned of debris.

10. Make it visitor-friendly.

A few amenities such as trash cans and informational signs can go a long way in making a historic cemetery or burial ground welcoming. In addition, visitor-friendly activities such as tours can draw attention to the restoration work. Photos courtesy of: Jamie Brandon/Flickr/CC 2.0; Elizabeth Thomsen/Flickr/CC BY NC SA 2.0; Sarah M. Heffern; NCPTT Media/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0; Wally Gobetz/Flickr/ BY NC ND 2.0; The U.S. Army/Flickr/CC 2.0; mmp888/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0; David Berkowitz/Flickr/CC 2.0; Cindy Cornett Seigle/Flickr/CC BY NC SA 2.0; NCPTT Media/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0; Sarah M. Heffern

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save Americas historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same in their own communities.

For more information, visit