Boy Scout troop cleans up old Prince George's cemetery

November 01, 1990|By Nancy Lawson | Nancy Lawson,Evening Sun Staff

ACCOKEEK -- The mass of grasses, weeds and small trees was so dense that it hid most of the forgotten cemetery, but it was not tall enough to hide one particular tombstone from John )) Nahm.

Nahm, an assistant Scoutmaster of Parkville Boy Scout Troop 26, was driving down Accokeek Road near Pleasant Springs in southern Prince George's County one day when he noticed the top of a tombstone that looked like a miniature Washington monument.

The tombstone turned out to be the burial site of a Navy pharmacist who died at sea in 1879.

"I backed up. I said, 'Wait a minute, if that's a graveyard we can have a historic trails site,' " said Nahm.

Nahm had been on the lookout for sites that would enable his Scouts to earn their Historic Trails Award patch.

The site, to which Nahm returned this month for a cleanup effort with his troop, was the McKendree Methodist Cemetery, where about 120 people have been buried since 1842. The old McKendree Methodist Church was destroyed by fire in the early 1900s.

Nahm obtained permission from the Prince George's County Historic Preservation Commission to clear the site, which was last researched in 1983 and found to be in desperate need of restoration.

ZTC Twelve Boy Scouts and eight of their fathers and leaders of Troop 26 set up camp across the street from the cemetery. They worked all one weekend to clear and partially renovate a portion of the 2.7-acre gravesite area.

Many of the tombstones are hidden in the thick woods. The boys worked in a less densely covered area of about 50 square yards that faces the road. They trimmed, chopped, and raked. They filled sunken gravesites and painted a rusted fence that surrounds a collection of Huntt family graves dating from around the middle of the 19th century into the first half of the 20th.

"When we got here . . . you couldn't see anything," said Scoutmaster Jim Harryman.

L The grass was 2 to 3 feet tall before the Scouts trimmed it.

"You couldn't even see the gravestones," said Danny Wildt, 13.

Nick Gelston, 12, agreed. "I tripped over every one of these so far," he said, pointing at the small concrete slabs.

As Nahm pushed through cobwebs and branches to reach overgrown gravesites, he said, "You'd think relatives would still be around somewhere and not let it go to pot like that."

But the only sign of any visits to the cemetery within the last half-century was a ceramic pot of plastic flowers in front of the marker of the well-maintained Billingsley family graves, the last of which was dated 1957.

A woman who drove by the project while the Scouts were working was so pleased that she stopped to give the troop $25, Nahm said.

"She said, 'I pass this every day and I wish somebody would clean it up,' " he said.

The Boy Scouts will earn a Historic Trails Award patch for their efforts, Nahm said.

"It's a hard patch for the boys to get because there are not many historic sites that need renovation," he said.

Nahm plans to ask other troops in the Washington and Baltimore areas to finish what Troop 26 started. The gravesites in the woods still need to be cleared, and the tombstones, caked with dirt and debris, should be cleaned with vinegar and water, he said.

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