Readsboro is taking steps to preserve their cemeteries and their history through a comprehensive restoration project that the cemetery commission is undertaking.
According to cemetery commissioner Forrest Hicks, the commission plans to clean, repair, and reset headstones in every cemetery owned by the town. So far, 184 headstones have been restored in three cemeteries – 57 headstones in the North Hill Cemetery, 63 in the Village Cemetery, and 64 on South Hill, where Readsboro Sexton Tom Maroni and his assistant Joel Hicks are working now. “The town has supported us at Town Meeting with $5,000 for four years,” says Forrest Hicks.
Maroni cleans the marble headstones with a mixture of muriatic acid and water, leaving even the oldest stones looking fresh, and the inscriptions legible. Breaks are repaired with a special epoxy. Most of the breaks, Hicks says, are due to weaknesses in the grain of the rock and gravity. “Once they start to lean, gravity eventually takes over and they break.”
When most of the older grave markers were originally set, there was no foundation – the slabs were simply stuck in the ground. Over the years they began to lean, forward or backward, or from side to side. Those that don’t lean seem to sink into the ground.
Maroni is resetting all the stones with a cement foundation. In removing some of the stones, there have been some surprises. In several instances, he’s discovered inscriptions that had been covered by dirt when the stone sank into the ground. “The pearly gates have opened to receive a welcome guest, and a ransomed heir of glory has entered into rest,” reads one inscription that hasn’t been visible in decades.
Of course, some stones can’t be repaired. Some are too fragile to move. Some were repaired many years ago using iron staves and bolts that go right through the stone. Removing the iron could damage the stones beyond repair.
Not only is the town restoring headstones, it’s also restoring its history. In the North Hill Cemetery, commissioners discovered a marble obelisk, broken into three pieces, that had been heaved over the stone wall. Now the obelisk, repaired with epoxy and restored to its original base, is the centerpiece of the bright little cemetery.
When Maroni began cleaning up South Hill Cemetery in preparation for the project, he moved what appeared to be two orange-hued rocks that may have come from the nearby stream. But when he rolled them over, he discovered there were names etched into the native rock – Alonzo and Elizabeth Harvey. No dates were on the rock, but Maroni deduced that they were children of a Harvey family buried nearby. That local rock was used rather than marble may be an indication that the Harvey family was unable to bear the expense of a specially made headstone, and made their own permanent marker. Maroni has cleaned the stones so well that the names look like they were etched in the river rock last week.
Hicks says there may be another two or more years of work before all of the repairs are made. But he says the work Maroni is doing should last for another century or more. “Tom’s the kind of guy who’s not going to do something unless he can do it right.”