Cemetery conservation and preservation project at Heidelberg United Church of Christ takes patience, heart and muscle.
Preservationist Mark Smith began his cemetery conservation and preservation project at Heidelberg United Church of Christ earlier this year.
His persistence and care won’t bring new life to the Stoutsville, Ohio cemetery, but he is hoping his efforts will give the interred the honor and respect they deserve.
Smith’s conservation work in the Heidelberg UCC cemetery is physically demanding and includes clearing brush, repairing broken memorials and resetting fallen monuments. He follows up his efforts of preservation by hand-scrubbing the gravestones to make them legible again.
Mark Smith of Gravestone Transformations was initially drawn to the Fairfield County cemetery because he grew up in the area. After viewing the marble headstones scattered throughout the cemetery, however, he became more passionate about preserving Heidelberg.
“Many headstones that are partially buried in the dirt have been toppled for many years. Some due to vandalism the cemetery suffered and some due to all of the elements the gravestones have withstood for decades. It may be impossible to find all of the broken pieces and all of the gravestones, but what I can locate will be repaired or reset and cleaned. Heidelberg cemetery helps tell the story of the Village of Stoutsville and that history is important to preserve.” says Mark Smith.
Earlier this year, Smith set out to preserve the estimated 200 headstones – that are both visible and hidden for more than 80 years after the last funeral was held at Heidelberg Cemetery. “Some of the first settlers of the Village of Stoutsville are buried in this cemetery. They developed their land and helped develop this town. They did a lot of hard work and some died at a very early age. I’m making every effort to show them the respect I feel they deserve.” according to Smith.
Heidelberg cemetery is filled with a wide array of stones slotted into the lawn. Some as tall as 9 feet and others as short as 12 inches. “A veteran marker for Israel Jones who fought in the Civil War is a great example of how long some of these gravestones have been inaccessible to the public. Israel’s marker has been face down in the dirt and covered with overgrown bushes for more than 20 years.” per Smith.
Smith feels genealogy research is a big part of his job as a preservationist, which is why he’s using all available resources in his quest to preserve the Heidelberg UCC cemetery. He’s researching genealogy information, burial records and historical documents, as well as, maps. Smith says “All of those tools combined will help fill in the gaps of those buried at Heidelberg Cemetery”.
Mark Smith took on the Heidelberg UCC cemetery conservation and preservation project after being given the go ahead from the church board. “Funding for the Heidelberg UCC cemetery conservation and preservation project has to come from outside sources”, according to Smith, “because it’s not part of the National Register of Historic Places. Any donations that are received go toward the sand, gravel and epoxy that are needed to preserve the cemetery.”
Smith says, “It’s undeniable, Heidelberg Cemetery holds a lot of history about the village and the township. It’s one reason I want to see its history preserved. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to complete its conservation and preservation project before cold weather sets in. It will likely take me most of next summer to complete.”
If you’re interested in donating to the Heidelberg United Church of Christ cemetery conservation and preservation project, please contact the church at (740) 477-1249 or 11185 Main St., Stoutsville, Ohio 43154.