Saving Graves

The Historical Commission's Jennifer Madden inspects a headstone at Cedarville Cemetery (CREDIT: Karen B Hunter -Enterprise
The Historical Commission’s Jennifer Madden inspects a headstone at Cedarville Cemetery
(CREDIT: Karen B Hunter – Enterprise)

By TAO WOOLFE Sandwich Enterprise, Oct 27, 2016

Decrepitude has seeped into Cedarville Cemetery—cracking and toppling ancient tombstones and beshadowing family markers with creeping foliage.

But rest easy, old souls, help is on the way.

About $70,000 has been set aside to restore dozens of graves at the East Sandwich site, and to shore up a Wing family tomb that has shifted as surrounding earth has frozen and thawed. An invitation to bid on the repair work is expected to be issued before the snow flies.

The Wing tomb is its most prominent burial site, but the shady cemetery, at Route 6A and Ploughed Neck Road, also holds the remains of other early families including the Nyes, Tuppers, Jillsons, Atkinses, Woods and Freemans.

“It is not the oldest or largest of the town’s ancient cemeteries, but it is quite significant,” said Jennifer Y. Madden, a member of the Sandwich Historical Commission who has donated countless hours of work to the restoration efforts of the town’s oldest graveyards.

In its appeal to the Community Preservation Commission for restoration money, the Historical Commission said Cedarville is among the cemeteries frequented each year by scores of people seeking their early roots in Sandwich, one of the oldest towns in the nation.

Although the graves in older, Old Town Burying Grounds in Sandwich Village date back to the 1600s, Cedarville is no pup. The cemetery’s oldest grave dates back to 1805, when Lewis and Clark were clambering up the Rockies and Napoleon had laid siege to Europe.

“Since so many of the departed in that place represent many of the ancestors of current residents, it seemed only right to honor those deceased before further deterioration causes elements of this burial place impossible to save,” said the historical commission’s application, which was penned by Ms. Madden.

The commission had hopes to restore “dozens of graves,” during this project. More work could be done later, Ms. Madden said.

On a recent tour of the cemetery, Ms. Madden, accompanied by historian Kaethe O. Maguire and Jill Jillson, showed how old slate tombstones had cracked and fallen over. The relatively fragile stone was the prevailing fashion more than 150 years ago. Marble, and then granite, became the rage later and all three materials had to be imported from off-Cape, Ms. Madden said.

In some cases, Cedarville’s toppled slate stones were cemented where they lay in an effort to preserve them.

Restorers will reset and glue broken gravestones, but will probably not include freeing and resetting the cemented stones.

The Wing family’s mound tomb, which contains many members of the family, including Henry T. Wing for whom the former school building is named, will require extensive work on its seams, which are leaking.

No plots are available for sale in the cemetery, which is owned by the town. But the newly deceased continue to be buried in the cemetery in previously purchased plots.

The Wings have donated to the cause, and the Sandwich Cemetery Commissioners have allocated $15,000 to the effort. Voters at Town Meeting in May approved the bulk of the restoration money from preservation funds. A few years ago voters approved money to create a master plan, including a digital map of the cemetery.

A curator at Heritage Museums & Gardens, Ms. Madden said she has loved cemeteries since she was a child. She spent summers in rural Pennsylvania with her grandparents and often explored a neighboring historic graveyard.

Ms. Madden moved to Sandwich about 23 years ago. When she joined the historical commission about nine years ago, her fellow members encouraged her to translate her interest into action.

“The Sandwích Historical Commission’s mission is to protect historical assets, and each member has a unique project,” Ms. Madden said. “This one is mine because I love this work.”