Cemeteries, like historic buildings and landscapes, provide critical connections between our past and future. Cemeteries literally contain the physical remnants – human remains – of our past. Cemeteries are evocative and powerful places that speak to descendants and casual visitors equally. Not only do cemeteries memorialize our loved ones who have passed away, they also hold invaluable social, artistic, cultural, and architectural heritage. Cemetery preservation is not only caring for the material history such as grave markers, monuments, and cemetery structures, it brings the community together to honor those who have passed away and the families connected to cemetery sites.

Many Maryland cemeteries are in disrepair due to environmental factors, lack of funding, and barriers to training for those who maintain cemeteries. Land development has and still can jeopardize cemeteries, particularly smaller family plots, cemeteries in underserved areas, and connected to individuals with marginalized identities. Preservation Maryland has undertaken a variety of initiatives to support cemetery preservation throughout the state.  Starting in 2018 and 2019, we partnered with the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites in a Six-to-Fix campaign designed to bring attention to the thousands of cemeteries throughout the state in need of preservation support and instruct Marylanders about how to care for cemeteries. From this project, in 2019 we also partnered with the Maryland Transport Authority and the State Highway Administration to document 100 cemeteries throughout the state. In 2022, we launched our Cemetery Preservation Workshops. This series of free workshops is generously funded through a grant from Rural Maryland Council and support from those who donated to Preservation Maryland’s 2021 Save a Grave Campaign. Through these workshops, participants are introduced to the basics of cemetery preservation, including cleaning the site, maintaining landscaping, and cleaning markers.  

Over the last six months, we held exciting workshops throughout the state, partnering with Mt. Olivet in Frederick County, Mt. Zion in Somerset, Mt. Erin and St. James United Cemeteries in Harford County, Eastview Cemetery in Allegany County, Tolson’s Chapel in Washington County, St. Mary’s Cemetery in Wicomico County, and St. Paul’s Cemetery in Worcester County.  


Our workshops began this Spring on April 30th at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Downtown Frederick, MD, and were joined by 14 participants, including some members of the Friends of Mt. Olivet community group.  Instead of this workshop being run by Preservation Maryland Staff, it was facilitated by Jon Appell, an expert in gravestone and monument conservation and owner of Atlas Preservation, who supplied all workshop materials, and Moss Rudley, the Superintendent of the NPS’s Historic Preservation Training Center. Participants covered the core workshops curriculum related to cleaning the site, grave marker cleaning, and landscaping, then were additionally introduced today more advanced gravestone restoration technique of resetting stones, which Jon and Moss specialize in.  During this first workshop, we were able to clean eighteen grave markers. 

Somerset County

The next workshop took us Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore on May 26th at Mt. Zion Memorial Church Cemetery in the Polks Road in the greater Princess Anne area in Somerset County.  We partnered with Retta Jones and Annette Cottman of the Mt. Zion Historical Society, The Mt. Zion Historical Society works to preserve the history of Mt. Zion Memorial Church, which was built in 1887 and served as an important place of worship and community space for the African American community around Polks Rd. Though today Mt. Zion Memorial Church no longer holds services, it is still a functions as an important community space. During the workshop, were joined by 17 participants, who were instructed by Preservation Maryland Staff, and cleaned 20 gravestones including all veteran graves in the cemetery.

 Harford County

 On August 19, we partnered with St. James United Cemetery and Mt. Erin Cemetery in Havre de Grace in Harford County for a joint event: Havre de Grace Cemetery History & Cemetery Preservation Workshop. With our partners Ron Pojounas of Mt. Erin and Reggie Bishop of St. James United and Memorial Preservation, Community Project of Havre de Grace, we learned about the history of both cemeteries. Mt. Erin Cemetery is on the site of the former St. James the Lessor Church, with was the first Roman Catholic Church in Havre de Grace. Mt. Erin Cemetery is next to St. James United Cemetery with only a narrow path separating them. St. James United Cemetery is connected with St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church and has been in operation for over 100 years. This event was our most broadly attended so far, with 56 participants joining us, many of whom were deeply connected with Havre de Grace’s community.  We were able to have a lively discussion about cemetery preservation, community engagement with cemeteries, and each individual’s personal interest in cemetery work. During the cemetery preservation portion of the event with Preservation Maryland Staff, participants cleaned 47 gravemarkers.

Allegany County

September was a busier month for our workshop schedule with two workshops in the western part of the state.  On September 7th we partnered with Eastview Cemetery in Allegany County’s city of Cumberland.  Eastview Cemetery, which is connected with the B’er Chayim Congregation, has served the Jewish community of Cumberland and the surrounding areas since 1854. Cemetery stewards Larry Brock and Doug Schwab joined Preservation Maryland Staff and 7 other participants to learn about Eastview Cemetery and the basic techniques of cemetery preservation. The intimate size of this workshop allowed for in depth discussion conversation with all participants.  Though the workshop ended when a storm broke, participants cleaned 16 stones and discussed plans for future cleaning sessions open to the community.  

Washington County

The next weekend on September 17th, we headed to Sharpsburg, MD for our workshop in partnership with Tolson’s Chapel. We worked with Friends of Tolson’s Chapel Board President Bridgette Jones Smith, historian Dr. Emilie Amt for a workshop to commemorate the 160th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam and its connection with the history of Tolson’s Chapel. Tolson’s Chapel opened its doors in 1866 and served the African American community of Sharpsburg as place of gathering and worship as well as Freedmen’s Bureau funded American Union School which opened in 1868. The Battle of Antietam was bloodiest single day of fighting during the Civil War with almost 23,000 soldiers killed or injured. The Union Army claimed a partial victory for the battle and President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation 5 days later, on September 22. Throughout the workshop, participants learned about the history of Tolson’s Chapel, discuss and learn about the history of African Americans who witnessed and took part in the Battle of Antietam with Dr. Emilie Amt.  Dr. Amt also spoke about her recently published work, Black Antietam: African Americans and the Civil War in Sharpsburg and did a book signing.  Participants then were introduced to basic cemetery preservation techniques within the Tolson’s Chapel cemetery. It was an extremely special day to come together and be invited to spend the day at Tolson’s Chapel with 14 community members.  By the end of the workshop, participants had cleaned 27 stones, including all of the historic markers in the cemetery.   

Wicomico County

In October we headed back to the Lower Eastern Shore for our October 8th workshop in Tyaskin, MD in Wicomico County.  For this workshop we partnered with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Stepney Parish with cemetery steward Lee Ellen Griffith and Rev. Dennis L. Morgan.  We were joined by 17 participants including many members of the Samuel Chase Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution. During the workshop we learned about the history of St. Mary’s Church, and some of the participants who attended our May 26th workshop in neighboring Somerset County.  Participants were able to clean most of the grave markers in the cemetery, totaling 53 markers 

This month, we closed out our fall workshops, with our November 5th workshop in Berlin, MD in Worcester County at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  We partnered with Sarah Hooper, the Senior Warden, Father Carl Mosley, David Hammond, the Junior Warden for the event.  Despite the time of year, we had ideal weather for the workshop, and we were joined by 23 community members who were eager to learn more about cemetery preservation, including many descendants of those buried in St. Paul’s cemetery. During the workshop, we cleaned 29 stones, and many of the participants stated that they were eager to share their new-found knowledge about basic cemetery preservation techniques with other local Berlin, MD churches, cemeteries in Ocean Pines, MD, and even some cemeteries as far as Silver Spring, in Montgomery County, MD.  

It has been an honor to be invited into each of the communities we have held workshops in so far, and to have the opportunity to work with cemetery stewards. Though the core curriculum of each workshop largely remains the same, our collaborate with our partners allows us to tailor each event’s program to include the history of the site and speak to the interests and needs of the community members taking part in the workshop. 

 This workshop series has reached more than 300 Marylanders who are interested in cemetery preservation and caring for their community cemeteries. As cold weather sets in, we will spend the winter planning for Spring 2023 workshops. If you are interested in volunteering or have questions about rural cemeteries in need of preservation, please send us an email to discuss how you can get involved in this workshop series: zbarnes@historictrades.org or click the button below. 

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This post was written by Preservation Maryland’s Workshop Coordinator, Zola Barnes. In her role Zola engages with communities throughout the state of Maryland, leading preservation workshops in historic cemeteries to empower Marylanders to care for their local history. Additionally, she assists with the development of educational materials related to cemetery preservation.