HISTORIC MONTGOMERY COUNTY CEMETERIES and MONTGOMERY COUNTY CEMETERY INVENTORY
Burial grounds in Montgomery County are in the news these days, after too many years of attracting little interest and concern. Today these precious historic resources have moved onto the radar of neighbors, developers, planners, and public officials, all of whom have vital roles in determining their survival and futures. This article covers burial sites information and current activities at the county and state levels.
The Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory was the first step in addressing a huge problem here and throughout Maryland—that burial sites are neglected, abandoned, undocumented and unmaintained, and that they disappear through lack of protection from development and vandalism.
From 2004-2009, Peerless Rockville led an initiative to identify and document all cemeteries in Montgomery County, with support from Historic Takoma, the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, and a series of grants from the M-NCPPC Historic Preservation Grant Fund. This ground-breaking project resulted in a list of about 325 burial grounds. The inventory includes large currently-operating cemeteries such as Union in Burtonsville and Monocacy in Beallsville, church grounds of black kinship communities such as Sugarland in Poolesville and Ebenezer in Ashton, small family plots with Revolutionary War burials, such as Zachariah Waters in Germantown and Jeremiah Crabbe in Derwood, and family farmland reserved years ago but today in suburban neighborhoods, such as Isaac and Samuel Shoemaker in Bethesda and Haiti in Rockville. Inventory volunteers began with previous lists, personal and published, and added sites as found through multiple sources.
The Cemetery Inventory is accessible at montgomeryplanning.org/historic/education/cemeteries.shtm with additional information, in hard copy files, at the Montgomery County Historical Society Library in Rockville. Inventory entries are comprised of name, location, description, type of burial ground (family, religious, etc.), and further information as available. Entries are indexed by name and by location.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY CEMETERY INVENTORY REVISITED
Other burial sites exist in the county that have not yet been listed in the inventory or pin-pointed at a specific location. To update the original survey and document more cemeteries, Montgomery Preservation is sponsoring the Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Revisited project throughout 2018. This update will enhance the earlier ground-breaking survey. Cemetery protection recently received boosts from legislation passed by a unanimous County Council and funding from Heritage Montgomery, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, and Montgomery County Government through a mini-grant program. MPI also appreciates donations from the General William Smallwood Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and from Peerless Rockville to help match this mini-grant. Join in to help identify and preserve local historic burial sites!
Volunteers are needed to help locate all burial sites in Montgomery County! Volunteers will learn about and visit known cemeteries (of all sizes in all corners of the county), nominate sites for the Inventory, conduct research, take photographs, complete survey forms, and copy gravestone inscriptions. This is a terrific opportunity to team up with interesting people of all ages and backgrounds. MPI project staff will train volunteers for these tasks.
Watch this webpage for more information about volunteer opportunities, training session dates, research sources, and survey progress. Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Revisited was launched on January 1, 2018. Our next training session will be held on March 10 from 11 am–1 pm at Norbeck-Muncaster Recreation Center at 4101 Muncaster Mill Rd, Rockville, after which volunteers will select or be assigned to specific cemeteries. If you would like to attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest in visiting, documenting, photographing, etc., and to provide information.
Cemetery Protection Legislation
To read more about the cemetery legislation passed by the Montgomery County Council, see New Laws Will Help to Protect Montgomery County Cemeteries.
Historic Cemeteries Currently in the News:
- White’s Tabernacle #39 Sons & Daughters of Moses cemetery on River Road, from which remains were removed in the late 1950s to make way for a high-rise building and stream management. This cemetery was documented by Little Falls Watershed Alliance volunteers and recognized by Montgomery Planning staff. Currently it is the subject of protests by members of nearby Macedonia Baptist Church concerned about additional remains and commemoration of the vibrant black community that once existed here.
- St. Paul Community Cemetery in Sugarland, near Poolesville, where descendants and other volunteers have for the past two years been mapping and memorializing a community burial ground. This project follows years of Sugarland Ethno History Project work to document this 19th century black community, restore the church, and share this special place with the public. Recently, cobblestone markers were installed at the site of every unmarked grave that was located by ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology.
St Paul Community Church Cemetery: photos by Gwen Reese
- Zachariah Waters family cemetery in Germantown, where the fenced burial ground contains a Revolutionary War patriot, is badly overgrown. The representative for the owner, which is in the subdivision development process, has denied access to Germantown Historical Society and other volunteers willing to clean it up.
Zachariah Waters family cemetery: photo by Tina Simmons
- Isaac Shoemaker family cemetery on Murray Road in Bethesda, where a well-documented burial plot is threatened by a new owner’s refusal to acknowledge the history of this site.
- Rockville Cemetery Association, in conjunction with Peerless Rockville, conducted successful Ghost Tours on October 7 by the light of lanterns and a full moon. For more information about this ancient burial ground and notable individuals interred here, visit www.rockvillecemeterymd.org
Cemetery Preservation in Maryland
Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites (CPMBS) is an all-volunteer non-profit formed in 1991 to combat a horrific situation in Howard County. Since that time, the Coalition has nurtured a state-wide network, dispensed information and support to local advocates, sparked changes to Maryland law, conducted workshops and annual gatherings, and helped solve problems. The Coalition’s session at the 2017 Montgomery County History Conference renewed interest in addressing issues at local cemeteries. They also chartered the Trader Foundation for Maryland Burial Sites that offers small grants for projects that will benefit cemeteries.
Preservation Maryland (PM), the state historic preservation non-profit, selected Historic Maryland Cemeteries as a 2016-17 preservation concern. During this year-long “Six to Fix” project, PM worked closely with the Coalition to bring much-needed attention to neglected and abandoned burial grounds. PM helped the Coalition upgrade its website, sponsored a History Conference session, testified at the General Assembly on legislation, created a PreserveCast, supported the Coalition’s statewide conference in April 2017, and partnered in a successful volunteer documentation-conservation-clean-up day in Charles County in October 2017.
Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) is the state agency responsible for historic preservation and archaeology. MHT is concerned about all historic properties and recognizes that many Maryland cemeteries are endangered as well as significant. Through MHT the African American Heritage Preservation Grant Program is available, which has in recent years made substantial grants to properties that include cemeteries.
Maryland General Assembly plays a vital role in cemetery protection and preservation. Some State laws are on the books—prohibiting desecration, authorizing access, requiring approval to move graves, and creating the Office of Cemetery Oversight—but there is room for improvement. A new cemetery preservation bill will be introduced in the 2018 session. To become an advocate or make suggestions, contact Eileen McGuckian at email@example.com