October 31, 2013

Old graveyards dying out?

WESTPORT — Tumbled tombstones and monuments, sinkholes, erosion and out-of-control plant growth are among the problems facing Hillside and Black River cemeteries here.

“We have a problem that the bank at the edge of the cemetery (Hillside) that goes down to Hoisington Brook has slid in the past,” Westport Cemetery Association President Juanita Napper said. “If we get a bunch of water, it might cause it to happen again.”

Her great-grandparents are buried there, as are early settlers and veterans, among them Ebenezer Durfie, who fought during the American Revolution.

There are also monuments to those not buried there, including Capt. Jacob Halstead and his brother, George, who perished in 1825 with the rest of their crew when the schooner Troy went down in a gale on Lake Champlain.


While old large trees add ambiance and shade to a graveyard, they can cause considerable damage due to branches falling on the tombstones, as well as the roots causing the ground to swell and toppling the stones.  

“There’s really not a level spot in the cemetery, so another of my big concerns is the base of the large stones tilting,” Napper said. 

“Most of these stones are set by the weight holding them in place, so when the base isn’t level, the stones start to slide. The only way to repair them before they fall is to take the top down, cement them and put them back up.  

“These stones are very heavy,” she said.

This issue is compounded by the fact that the ground is soft in many places, so using heavy equipment is not always possible.

Depressions appear from time to time, as the old caskets were made of wood. When they rot, the ground caves in to fill the spaces.

“Erwin Barber gave us some gravel from his pit to fill in some of these holes,” Napper said, “and the prisoners (work crew) from Moriah came, so things are in a lot better shape.”

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