New Charlemont panel will catalog cemeteries

 

Greenfield Recorder 07/14/2012, Page A01

By DIANE BRONCACCIO
Recorder Staff

CHARLEMONT — The town has at least a dozen cemeteries, many obscure and neglected, according to Bonnie Lee Nugent. And she warned Selectmen Monday that some are being damaged by rafters and tubers cutting through on their way to and from the Deerfield River.

The exact number is somewhat obscure, she said, since the US Geological Survey lists cemeteries in Rowe, Heath and Shelburne Falls — “everyone but us,” Nugent said.

“And we have 12 known cemeteries.”

And yet progress is being made — every single gravestone in the East Charlemont Cemetery, near the Maranatha Bible Chapel, has been photographed and is on the Internet, Nugent continued. That’s 284 gravestones posted, including the names of those interred.

Nugent and the selectmen are hoping to find out who in town is interested in the cemeteries — interested enough to help town officials with research, gravestone restoration, grounds improvements and in developing a maintenance plan for some of the “forgotten” graveyards.

“We’ve got people who are interested,” said Nugent. “We just don’t know who they are.”

On Monday night, selectmen voted unanimously to form a Cemetery Committee, and promptly appointed Nugent as its first member.

The purpose of the committee will be to research both public and private cemeteries within town and to make recommendations to the selectmen regarding such issues as restoration, repair and a maintenance plan for each appropriate cemetery site.

The committee of five members is also charged with determining strategies — and cost — for repairs and upkeep.

The cemeteries that Nugent listed include small family plots on private property and one site in which a single person is buried.

She said the Hawkes Cemetery, which is near the Shunpike picnic area, shows signs that people are cutting through the cemetery, walking on the stones, to get to the river to put in canoes or other crafts. Nugent said she would like to see the town fence the rear of the cemetery, so that there is only a front entrance to it.

“People can still get to the river without cutting through the cemetery,” she said.

Also, she said, some stones appear to be missing.

Nugent said she has become increasingly interested in genealogy in the last five years. She noted that the Internet has greatly helped to make finding burial sites for ancestors and historic figures much faster.

She said she was motivated to get involved with town cemeteries after seeing that a cemetery on Zoar Road, near her home, appeared to be neglected.

Selectman Vaughn Tower, who organized a workbee last weekend to clean up the Zoar Road cemetery, became the second new cemetery committee member. He therefore abstained from voting while fellow Selectman David Cunningham and Chairwoman Jean Brisson appointed him.

“I don’t need to be on anything,” Tower had said when asked if he wanted to be on the cemetery committee. I’ll just show up and work.

“I feel, if Charlemont looks better, we’ll feel better.”

Tower and Nugent said Mac Haskell has also put in several hours of weeding and clearing some brush from the neglected cemetery.

“Zoar looks phenomenal,” Nugent told him. “In one week, it got changed from one place to another.”

Nugent said she is working with a friend to get GPS coordinates for town cemeteries so that they can be mapped, and has spoken to state Rep. Paul Mark to find out if there are grant sources for gravestone restorations.

She said there are programs that provide headstones for U.S. soldiers whose graves have no headstones.

Tower said he would like to have town volunteers work to restore the unkempt cemeteries, to “build a sense of community, and community pride.”

Nugent said towns need to treat their cemeteries “with the respect we treat our grand old buildings. Our cemeteries are there because people put people they loved there. There’s a lot of love in cemeteries,” she said. “It’s a horrible thing to lose family. (Cemeteries) need to be pretty, like public parks.”

More information about the new Cemetery Committee will be posted on the town’s website:http://www.charlemontma. us Also, to see the gravestones of the East Charlemont Cemetery, Google “East Charlemont Cemetery” and click on:findagrave.com

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:dbronc@recorder.com or (413) 772-0261, Ext. 277