Church seeks money to restore historic cemetery

March 18, 2007|by MARIE GILBERT

Jonathan Hager is buried there. So are many of Hagerstown's earliest settlers, including veterans of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

Yet the cemetery behind Zion United Church of Christ doesn't have the appearance of a shrine to city history. Instead, it is showing the ravages of time.

Many of the markers are broken, some are missing and others are teetering on their sides, sitting on unstable ground.

"The cemetery has been here since the church was founded in the 1700s," said the Rev. Dr. Robert C. Royal, pastor of Zion, which is at the corner of Potomac and Church streets. "It's an important part of this town's history and draws more than 500 people each year who come here from around the country researching ancestral relationships. But it's becoming a little embarrassing. It needs work."

The work required, Royal said, won't come cheap and the church is looking for creative ways to raise funds for the restoration project.


Saturday evening, church members took the first step by hosting a silent auction, potluck supper and dance.

Chairperson Jessica Green said there was a great deal of support for the event - from church members who pitched in to help to local businesses who donated items for the auction.

"The cemetery is an important part of the church, but it's also an important part of the community," she said. "We thought an event like this would be a way to make the public aware of what we're doing."

With 100 tickets sold, organizers were hoping to raise between $1,500 and $2,000 Saturday night.

But with work estimates of more than $40,000, Royal said they may try to do some of the work themselves or get community support to bring down the cost.

"We're a downtown church, a declining church," he said. "And that amount of money just isn't in our budget."

But the work will get done, Royal said. "This is the kind of project that typifies our church."

Royal said the cemetery was originally known as God's Acre and actually sits on one acre of property.

Over the years, it has suffered a great deal from vandalism, he noted. Time has also taken its toll, with many markers deteriorating and wording no longer legible.

In addition to the restoration of markers, Green said the church would also like to stabilize the ground and someday add a walkway.

Because of its historic significance, the cemetery receives a large number of visitors, she said. "The church secretary gets calls and e-mails every day from people around the country wanting information about ancestors buried here."

Royal said many people visiting the cemetery think the church is a museum, "but though we are an historic site," he said, "we are a church with an active congregation. We are in the unique position of being able to share our church, its history and heritage with the public."

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