By Melanie Williamson
Several months ago, the Brownhelm Historical Association Cemetery Preservation Committee embarked on a massive endeavor to restore the many historical headstones in the Brownhelm Cemetery. Previously, as you walked around the historic side of the cemetery, it was common to see headstones that were so dirty and worn down that they were unreadable. Many of the headstones were cracked, broke, or had chunks missing out of them, and several were laying on the ground where they had toppled over and broke.
The effort to save the headstones started with gravestone preservation workshops that were opened up to anyone in the community, who wanted to volunteer on this project. Participants learned how to properly clean, reset, and repair gravestones without causing further damage and preserving what was still there of the original piece. This is a slow and often tedious process as the volunteers are working with very old and relatively fragile pieces of stone.
Since those workshops were held in early summer, dozens of volunteers have shown up on several workdays to do their part to preserve this historic cemetery. Volunteers young and old were able to get their hands dirty and be involved in preserving the history of the area.
Some of the tasks they accomplished included pouring new concrete bases for headstones that had toppled over and resetting the headstones, so they would be vertical over the grave where they belonged. Headstones that had fallen and broke into pieces were put back together like puzzle pieces.
Many of the headstones were extremely dirty and worn from old age and neglect that resulted in them being very difficult to read or unable to be read. Volunteers used special cleaning solutions to scrub the headstones. As can be seen in the photos, some of the cleaning was very detailed and required the use of wood skewers as volunteers had to clean out each letter in order to make it readable again.
The preservation committee started with the headstones that are highlighted in their annual cemetery walk. This event invites members of the community to learn about the settling and history of Brownhelm by listening to re-enactors, who dress the part and stand by the gravestone of the person they are re-enacting in order to tell the story of that person. This event is an amazing and interactive way to learn about local history as attendants are allowed to hear “first hand” stories and ask questions.