|Volunteers Bill Shikrallah and Dan Morrison clean headstones at the Historic Presbyterian Church of Newtown as restoration of the stones in the cemetery begins Saturday.|
Restoration began Saturday on the time-worn cemetery behind the Historic Presbyterian Church of Newtown at 76 N. Sycamore St. The church was established in 1769 with the first burial taking place in 1773.
A team of 11 volunteers arrived ready to dig. They were led by Chris Frey, the owner of Keystone Preservation Group in Doylestown.
The workshop began with a brief rundown of the dos and don’ts of restoring a piece of history. Resetting tilted headstones and cleaning them was the focus of the project. Frey created an electronic database with the condition and photo of each gravestone and the work needed for repair.
One of the things they do not want to do is make the graveyard look new. Keeping the historical look is part of the mission.
“The goal is to preserve history from being lost,” said Frey.
It will take years and a lot of volunteers to complete the restoration project. And some work will need to be completed by professionals who will cost money. It cost about $700 to restore one grave site, according to Frey.
Understanding the problem is the first step of a successful restoration. The grave sites are “sensitive like sculptures,” Frey said. He believes poor soil is the reason for the stones shifting.
“The most problematic in the cemeteries are the tilted markers,” said Frey. “They should not be able to tilt. A lot of what we don’t know lies beneath the ground.”
Volunteers formed two groups and repairs began one stone at a time. Jeff Denlinger, Mike Bishop, Bob Lemke, Jack Espenshade and Ron Husted rounded up levels, shovels, tape measures and got to work. They removed the first headstone and base to repair the ground below. Old bricks and gravel were removed so the ground could be realigned and leveled. The end result would be a firmly replaced headstone.
And Bill Shikralla, Dan Morrison, Dick Kauffman, Walt Jamison and William Mejia worked on removing the moss and algae from the stones, making the scripture readable once more.
According to Karen Dorward of Newtown, a member of the restoration committee, many footstones rest against the back wall of the cemetery and need to be placed back with the correct headstone. For reasons unknown, the footstones were removed. But, each footstone has the first and last initial of the gravestone it belongs to.
More than 300 graves are in the cemetery. Many of them hold generations of the same family. More than 53 of the graves are of children. A number of them are veterans of war. The cemetery is comprised of four veterans of the French and Indian War, 29 veterans of the American Revolution, one veteran from the War of 1812, one veteran from the Civil War and six veterans from World War II, according to church records.
“The cemetery is the link with our past. Many people settled in Newtown,” said Dorward. “Many children are buried here. It is our responsibility to take care of it.”
Walt Jamison of Upper Makefield, chairman of the committee, has been a member of the church his whole life. All three of his children were married there and his parents attended church there.
“The restoration means a great deal,” said Jamison. “The church is on the National Historic Registry.”
The committee is comprised of about 18 members dedicated to saving history. There are four major fundraisers held each year to pay for the facility and cemetery. A trust fund was set up about 20 years ago to keep up with the upkeep but with interest rates being so low it is not enough to sustain the property and grounds, according to Jamison.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call the church at 215-968-3861.