UPDATE ON ISAAC SHOEMAKER CEMETERY
MPI and the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites are supporting the Shoemaker family in its efforts to preserve a family burial ground located on 5200-5202 Murray Road in Bethesda. Susie Scofield, daughter of Nancy Shoemaker Werner, handled the trial case before the Montgomery County Circuit Court and is joined by Michele McDaniel Rosenfeld as co-counsel before the Court of Special Appeals.
The issues on appeal include a challenge to the lower court’s decision on several grounds, including (a) a finding that the Shoemaker family no longer holds title to the burial ground; (b) that the current owner, Paramount Construction, has acquired title through adverse possession; and (c) that the Court improperly excluded certain testimony from trial witnesses regarding the existence of the burial ground.
As of April 2021, we have filed a 450-page joint record extract and the main appellant brief. Paramount, the appellee, filed an opposition brief and then the Shoemaker family filed a reply on March 30. A panel of three judges from the Court of Special Appeals will hear oral argument on May 3, after which the Court will issue a written opinion.
This wide-ranging, cutting-edge, urgent, amazing project is now complete, according to project director Eileen McGuckian. Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Revisited (MCCI-R) built upon a ground-breaking survey conducted from 2004 to 2009 to fulfill the urgent goal of advocates to compile an inventory of all local identified burial sites. The Historic Preservation Commission awarded five small grants to Peerless Rockville, and Anne Brockett led volunteers to assemble lists, visit 263 identified sites, create a Microsoft Access database, GIS map, digital photographs, printed inventory forms, paper files at MCHS library, and site cover sheets available on Montgomery Planning website. A brochure was produced, two conservation workshops were conducted for property owners, a Watch List listed endangered cemeteries, and recommendations were made for further progress.
Directed by Montgomery Preservation Inc. (MPI), MCCI-R significantly updates the data, technology, and accessibility of the earlier inventory. Made possible by a mini-grant from Heritage Montgomery, additional funding for this project came from MPI, Peerless Rockville, and General William Smallwood Chapter SAR.
Between January and April 2018, staff conducted five training sessions to prepare 90 volunteers to visit all known burial sites in Montgomery County. Project volunteers (teenagers through senior citizens) assessed conditions, completed survey forms, acquired GPS coordinates, conducted additional research, and photographed the current environment. Volunteers braved overgrown vegetation, uneven ground, heat and humidity, snakes, and biting insects to survey their sites. Current conditions and assessments were compared to the 2004 survey findings, and newly-discovered burial sites were added to the inventory. African American cemeteries became a particular focus, with 86 sites and multiple beneficial societies identified thus far.
All previous efforts were converted into Excel spreadsheets, new sites and ID numbers were added, all paper files at MCHS were scanned, FindaGrave links were updated new entries were created, most sites were personally visited, applications such as MCAtlas, MHT Medusa, GoogleMaps and more were utilized, and contact with volunteers continues to be maintained. The coordinators met with M-NCPPC personnel and the 2004-2009 coordinator to identify sites, review progress, and evaluate findings.
As a result of this project, solid new information is available on Montgomery County cemeteries: Each survey contains additional fields (ownership, safety concerns, designation status). New sites were added, some sites believed lost were found, and a few sites erroneously thought to be cemetery locations were removed from the list. Another result—bolstered by two protection laws passed in 2017, effective in 2018—was more public and private attention to and concern about local burial sites. This project has drawn accolades beyond Montgomery County’s borders.
The final report, submitted in December 2018, includes summaries and statistics derived from MCCI-R project, recommendations, next steps, and a variety of categorical lists.
On May 16, 2019, the Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously adopted the Montgomery County Burial Sites Inventory and Montgomery County Planning Board Guidelines for Burial Sites (PDF).
List of cemeteries by NAME
List of cemeteries by ID NUMBER
List of cemeteries by VICINITY
MCCI-R Final Report, Statistics, & Recommendations
Read “Where to Find Cemetery Information” to discover valuable resources for researching cemeteries.
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:
- River Road Moses Cemetery (#327), 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 (#140) 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 (#219) 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 (#324) 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Save Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery
“SAVE ISAAC SHOEMAKER CEMETERY” is an MPI non-profit fund earmarked for legal efforts to protect the endangered Isaac Shoemaker burial site in Chevy Chase. Shoemaker descendants are appealing a Circuit Court decision that did not protect this well-documented cemetery as required by law. Now on suburban lots, the hilltop plot was used 1845-1883 by the family that farmed here for a century.
MPI and the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites are supporting the family via an amicus brief, and the Coalition committed $5,000 to start a legal fund. MPI’s Wayne Goldstein Fund was established to protect historic sites through public action. Tax-deductible donations are accepted via check payable to Montgomery Preservation, memo line “Save Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery” and sent to PO Box 4661, Rockville, MD 20849, or via PayPal using the form below.
More information is available from Eileen McGuckian 301-468-7331 or through email@example.com