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 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. This will be available in digital format after the Revisited project is complete (estimated as being November 2018).
MONTGOMERY COUNTY CEMETERY INVENTORY REVISITED
Other burial sites exist in the county that were not listed in the original inventory nor pin-pointed at a specific location. Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Revisited project will update and enhance the earlier ground-breaking survey in terms of both information and technology.
Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Revisited was launched on January 1, 2018. Since then, project coordinator Glenn Wallace has conducted five training sessions to prepare more than 80 volunteers to form teams that are visiting all known burial sites in our county. They are taking photographs, assessing conditions, completing survey forms, conducting additional research, and perhaps copying gravestone inscriptions. Volunteers selected sites from 43 geographic zones throughout the county, and there is even a special team assigned to find burial sites previously identified as“lost.” Updates are being made from the original surveys and newly-discovered burial sites have been added to the inventory. To date, numerous survey products have been completed, with all items due to MCCI-R project personnel by September 1.
Glenn has converted all previous efforts onto Excel sheets, added the new sites to the list, and assigned new ID numbers. He scanned the paper files at MCHS and provided FindaGrave links if sites are found online and created new FindaGrave entries. He and project director Eileen McGuckian met with Montgomery Planning GIS personnel to coordinate what and how information is needed for Planning Board and public use. They are also coordinating with Montgomery Parks to identify sites on park land. An email address has been established at firstname.lastname@example.org and the project website at www.montgomerypreservation.org will continue to be updated frequently.
African American cemeteries are a particular focus for many of our volunteers. The February 10 training session included a talk by Anne Brockett on mutual beneficial societies, several of which organized cemeteries in Montgomery County (Sons and Daughters of Moses, Galilean Fishermen, Loving Charity Hall, and others). Here is a LINK to the list of 80 African American burial sites identified thus far. MCCI-R encourages your information, corrections, and additions to this list.
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 is hosting a workshop and other activities on Saturday, October 6, noon to 4 p.m. FREE.
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