Ground penetrating radar usage at Berlin Cemetery. Photo by Jeff Batson.

Heritage Fund Highlight: Preserving Berlin Cemetery

01/07/2017
By Preservation Maryland

Brunswick, located in Frederick County, has a legacy as a town instrumental to American transportation history with busy canals and fast railroads fueled by the residents of the town. In early 2015, the City of Brunswick contacted Preservation Maryland with a request for assistance to help preserve the Old Berlin Cemetery, the endangered resting place of the town’s earliest residents.

BRIEF HISTORY OF BRUNSWICK

By 1787 the town of Berlin, which lies just a few miles east of Harper’s Ferry on the Potomac River, was a bustling trading center. Fifty years later when the town was ready for a post office, the name changed to Barry to distinguish it from Berlin on the Eastern Shore, but the name never stuck.  In 1890 the name changed again in order to accommodate the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. The B&O relocated its Martinsburg, West Virginia rail yard to this centrally located spot and the company needed to ensure that people knew where they were going.

The town was once home to several of the 70-some locks that brought boats along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and today the town is part of the C&O Canal National Historic Park. A Railroad Day each October and the Brunswick Heritage Museum with its interactive exhibits on the city’s transportation history highlight how important these industries were to the success of the town.

PRESERVING THE BERLIN CEMETERY

Still bearing the first name of the city settled by German immigrants, the Berlin Cemetery was used as a burial ground as early as 1799. Jacob Mehrling Holdcraft, a Frederick County historian, wrote in his 1966 survey of county cemeteries, Names In Stone, that the earliest known gravestone in the cemetery dated to 1806 – with the majority of the burials taking place between 1870 and 1910 when the town experienced significant growth from the canal and railroad.

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Old Berlin Cemetery, Maryland.

In 2015, the City of Brunswick rightly recognized that the cemetery was threatened. Research notes that as many as 150 of Brunswick’s early residents are buried in the Old Berlin Cemetery, but only 70 headstones remained. Some headstones were lost or knocked down, and many inscriptions are barely legible. The cemetery also lacked a fence or hedgerow to restrict people from using it as a shortcut to nearby baseball fields. A century-old sycamore tree was endangered, and invasive plant species threatened to overtake the cemetery.

The City of Brunswick used a $3,000 grant from Preservation Maryland to complete a conservation assessment, conduct a survey of existing cemetery features, and create a preservation master plan. Graphic design services were provided in-kind, and the City covered the remaining costs. Here’s more on how the funding was used:

SEEING HISTORY ANEW WITH TECHNOLOGY

Ground penetrating radar usage at Berlin Cemetery. Photo by Jeff Batson.

Ground penetrating radar usage at Berlin Cemetery. Photo by Jeff Batson.

To get an accurate assessment of underground features, including headstones that may have sunk beneath the ground surface, the Town called on Ground Penetrating Radar Systems, Inc. City planners used the results to create a baseline map of the cemetery’s subsurface features. Archaeologist Howard Wellman, a historic cemetery conservator, conducted research for the cemetery survey and assessment. This information was the basis for the 2015 report. The Town also worked with local graphic designer Jeff Batson to create memorial to unmarked graves, including orphaned gravestones that have been moved from their original locations.

A COMMUNITY EFFORT

All of this work would not have helped preserve Berlin Cemetery without the dedication of a team of volunteers. Local citizens gave their time and energy to cleaning up trash, removing invasive species, and making a border around the cemetery. Karin Birch, a professional landscape designer, was awarded a contract to create a landscape plan for the cemetery and organize volunteers to perform the work. City Administrator Carrie Myers explained that after the city completed the conservation assessment and survey, Ms. Birch organized the cemetery volunteers, who are currently “at work and moving forward.” The Berlin Cemetery preservation project is a great example of how local government, community volunteers, preservation experts, and non-profits can join together to protect sacred local heritage.

STATEWIDE BURIAL SITE INITIATIVE

Partnering with the City of Brunswick to preserve the Berlin Cemetery is just one way Preservation Maryland has supported endangered cemeteries. We have included Historic Cemeteries of Maryland as one of our Six-to-Fix sites of 2016. Our partner in this effort is the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, a non-profit actively engaged in preserving these sacred places. Preservation Maryland is also proud to sponsor the Coalition’s January 28, 2017 workshop, “How to Protect Your Local Historic Burial Grounds” at the Montgomery History Conference.

ADDITIONAL HERITAGE FUND SUCCESSES

There are examples of projects just like this that simply would not happen without the financial support of the Heritage Fund. If you’re organization or municipality is interested in applying for a Heritage Fund grant, please contact Preservation Maryland.

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HERITAGE FUND HIGHLIGHTS

This post was researched and written by Kyle Fisher, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Kyle’s work with us focuses on research and communications. He has a BA in Communications and History from Virginia Tech and a MA in Social Studies Education from Loyola University Maryland. Learn more about Kyle and our intern program here: presmd.org/waxter.

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Preservation Maryland is Maryland’s first and largest organization dedicated to preserving the state’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

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