Small Cemeteries Are Big Plots Of History

Manchester Gravesite Dates Back 225 Years

December 19, 1990|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

MANCHESTER - Some gravesites in an obscure High Street backyard date almost to the beginnings of this 225-year-old town.

But town historical officials are trying to lift those old gravesites and the small, former church cemetery out of obscurity.

"It's an important project," said Charlotte B. Collett, a town councilwoman and head of the Manchester Historical Center Committee. "We are trying to preserve it."

The cemetery, a 5,000-square-foot patch behind the 120-year-old former United Brethren Church building in the 3100 block of High Street, is part of property owned by William W. Cunningham.

Since July, Collett and other committee members have been negotiating with Cunningham to give the cemetery to the town, which will do fencing, maintenance, lighting and repair work.

The Town Council agreed last month to acquire the cemetery, but only if for free.

Cunningham declined to comment on the deal yesterday.

According to Collett, the cemetery is a piece of town history that needs to be preserved. She expects the project to cost an initial $5,000 to $6,000 to be raised from town businesses and residents.

"There is some work to be done there," she said. "Some of the grave markers are in German, and some date back to the 1700s. We want to get those back into shape."

To keep the cemetery in shape through the years, Collett would enlist the help of area Scouts, perhaps persuading troop leaders to award badges for the maintenance work.

Manchester was first settled by American Indians in the early 18th century. By the latter part of the century, it became known as Germantown, a name that stuck until the early 19th century.

The move to preserve the small High Street cemetery comes at a time when several other burial ground preservation movements are under way in Carroll County.

Several miles to the south, in Hampstead, a desolate thicket of trees in the middle of a cornfield is the burial site of the town's founding family.

The burial site -- known as Rattlesnake Ridge -- was threatened with destruction earlier this year when the 124-acre parcel of which it is a part was annexed into the town.

Property owner Claude B. Widerman, a Montgomery County businessman, presented plans to the Planning and Zoning Commission last night for a 309-unit housing development on the property. The plans show that the developers intend to keep Rattlesnake Ridge intact.

"I'm hoping the town and some of the service clubs around will be willing to pick it up, to take care of the cemetery," said Joan Porterfield, a 51-year-old town resident who is nine generations removed from the people buried in Rattlesnake Ridge.

In August, she approached the town to make sure the cemetery would be protected.

Porterfield and other preservationists in Hampstead haven't put a dollar figure on turning Rattlesnake Ridge from an inaccessible clump of weeds into a neatly manicured reminder of this town's colonial history.

"What's important is that it is not plowed over by development," she said. "Perhaps the Hampstead town leaders will see what they're doing up in Manchester, and we will be able to go from there."

In addition to the sites in Hampstead and Manchester, small family and church cemeteries across the county are being identified by the Carroll County Genealogical Society so that they, too, can be protected from development.

The society's president spoke before the county Planning Commission yesterday on cemetery preservation.

At the same time preservationists are struggling to ensure that small, historic cemeteries survive, the county's largest cemetery is in the middle of fund-raising drive to protect it from vandalism.

The 200-year-old Westminster Cemetery -- burial place of the city's founder, William Winchester -- kicked off its drive in late October and hopes to raise $50,000 for fences, lighting, repairs, roadways and increased security.

About 50 of the "several thousand" gravesites have been vandalized in recent years, said George A. Billingslea, president of the cemetery.

"So far, the campaign has brought in $7,500," said Sondra G. Krebs, secretary of the cemetery's Board of Managers. "I'm real tickled by the progress we've made," she said. "A lot of the people who have donated are plot holders, but plenty of other people in the community have come forward to help."

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