Seeking help, church brings state officials to cemetery

Historic black graveyard victim of vandals, neglect

May 16, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

An African-American church in Westminster has asked state legislators and preservationists to help save its historic cemetery from ruin.

On a tour Friday of Ellsworth Cemetery in Carroll County, Richard B. Hughes, chief of the Office of Archaeology for the Maryland Historic Trust, pledged technical support but stopped short of offering money for restoration of the final resting place of veterans, former slaves and many of Carroll County's African-American leaders.

"Money has not traditionally gone to cemeteries," Hughes said. "There are so many of them, they would eat us up."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of the county's legislative delegation, also pledged his support "in whatever I can do to help."

Haines, Hughes and several others walked among the gravestones in the Leidy Road cemetery, off Route 140 in Westminster. The Rev. James Hinton, pastor of Union Memorial Baptist Church, which owns the property, and several volunteers showed the group how the oldest black graveyard in Carroll County has fallen victim to vandals, time and neglect.

Tombstones, some that date back 150 years, are toppled and broken; markers have been removed and carvings are defaced.

"The vandalism just does not stop," said George Murphy, an Eldersburg resident who also has volunteered in the effort and visits the site frequently. "In just the last three months, several more stones have been destroyed."

Neglect has also played a role. The church, in one of Westminster's poorest neighborhoods, devotes most of its time and energy to outreach. The grass at Ellsworth is unmowed and weeds choke any flowers that might bloom. All 200 grave sites are filled; the last funeral there was nearly 20 years ago.

"We just don't have the funds," said Hinton, who used to cut the grass with a push mower. "Our resources have just run out. Many of the families who used to care for this place have died out."

Murphy, who helped save four cemeteries in Baltimore County, would like Ellsworth to receive landmark status, making it eligible for preservation funds.

"We need to get this place enrolled," said Murphy. "We need to keep trespassers out and restore and protect Ellsworth."

Murphy is preparing applications to the National Historic Trust and to state organizations, hoping for restoration funds. He has also written to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has supported several preservation projects.

About $50,000 is needed for the restoration effort, Murphy said. That would include a survey of the 1.2-acre property to determine the location of all 200 graves, many of which predate the Civil War.

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