Preserving historic burying grounds without breaking the bank

Almost 20 years ago, as a young historic preservation intern for the Newport Historical Society in Rhode Island, I assisted with an inventory of the Common Burying Ground.  The experience impressed me on many levels.      Transcribing each gravestone inscription and, in doing so, paying attention to family connections and how each person’s life fit in the timeline of history brought local history to life in a way that my books did not.  Beholding the beauty of the carvings and realizing that carvers have unique styles helped me understand that the gravestones are not only documentation of lives lived, but also works of art.  Spending extended time at the burying ground helped me appreciate its park-like openness – an openness that provided relief in the midst of an otherwise dense Newport neighborhood. 

These elements are in no way unique to this Newport burying ground; many communities throughout New England boast similar places.  Unfortunately, many (perhaps even most) historic burying grounds are in dire need of conservation.  In Massachusetts, the Community Preservation Act (CPA) provides a significant source of funding to protect and preserve these special places. 

 CPA instrumental to preserve burying grounds

CPA communities have appropriated over $4.5 million of CPA funds to preserve historic burying grounds and cemeteries.  CPA funded projects include a variety of preservation activities: gravestone and monument conservation; restoration of chapels and tombs; stabilization of retaining walls; surveys, inventories, and management plans; as well as installation of fencing and signage. 

 These projects can be costly, ranging anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $350,000 depending on the scope of work, but in Newburyport they’ve figured out a way to bring costs down substantially. 

This article continues with details on the Newburyport project . . . see the whole article as published in the Community Preservation Coalition's February 2010 CPA Update.