Descendants in Carroll fix up ancestors' graves

Efforts target burial site of town's founding family

April 16, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The grass is clipped and a new fence surrounds the small cemetery on Rattlesnake Ridge, where Joan H. Porterfield collects a few sticks and trash from around her great-great-great-grandparents' graves.

This restored plot encompasses the Richards family burying ground - the probable resting place of Edward Richards, an English Quaker whose family founded the town of Hampstead, beginning with 50 acres granted to him in 1739 by Lord Baltimore.

The cemetery - circa 1750 to 1870 - lies on a grassy knoll with two new schools, and single-family homes and condominiums are under construction around it. The graveyard is to be rededicated at 2 p.m. Sunday in a ceremony that will include several Richards descendants.

"Maryland is full of these little cemeteries," said Ken Decker, Hampstead's town manager. "At least we were able to identify it and ... preserve this little plot of ground, of history."

Centuries of rain and wind have faded the inscriptions on some monuments. There are three white marble markers - one for George Richards, who died in either 1863 or 1868; one for his wife, Catherine; and another for his sister, Elizabeth Lawson. One small, narrow piece of marble bears only the letter "F."

Thirteen fieldstones also mark graves, two of them with visible carving.

As for patriarch Edward Richards, Porterfield said, "He probably is here, but we don't know where. I'm sure all these are Richards. ... Maybe these fieldstones," she said, gesturing down the row beside her great-great-great-grandparents' marble markers.

"We know there were a lot more burials. This is what was left," she said.

For decades, the Richards cemetery was nearly inaccessible - about a 3/4 -mile hike from Houcksville Road through overgrown fields and woods.

"We tried to keep an eye on it," said Porterfield, who became interested in genealogy in the mid-1970s and is a member of the Carroll County Genealogical Society. "A lot of people didn't know it existed," she said, adding that the last-known burial was in 1870.

Lost or neglected small cemeteries are not unusual, especially in the middle of farmers' fields, according to county genealogy enthusiasts. Since the society's founding in 1981, members of its inscription committee have recorded the information carved on stones from single graves to large cemeteries.

The isolated tombstone of Mount Airy founder Henry Bussard, who died in 1881, was found by a volunteer who searched through overgrown areas where someone had reported once seeing it.

Porterfield showed a similar scene in a photograph from 25 years ago, in which she and Richards descendants Martha M. Hyson and Robert Richards "Buzz" Geist clambered around a large fallen tree to stand by the white gravestones - shown in pieces on the ground.

"It was all fields, overgrown with trees and bushes and poison and underbrush and everything you could imagine," she said. "Groundhog holes galore."

Development - which once threatened little cemeteries - brought the modern-day restoration of the isolated Richards plot.

"We really started paying attention to it in the 1980s," Porterfield said of the graveyard. She discussed the cemetery during the mid-1980s with then-Mayor Julia Walsh Gouge, now a Carroll County commissioner, who predicted that the planned homes would bring easier access.

They did: Roads and sidewalks for the homes and schools eliminated the arduous trek through the brush, and restoration work could begin, Porterfield said. The land was cleared, and the stones were removed and restored.

"All the stones were broken - Catherine and George and Elizabeth's foot stone were in two pieces, and Elizabeth's headstone was in three pieces, lying together, and we saw we could match them up," she said.

The cemetery restoration was a collaborative venture. As a condition of allowing new homes be built on the site, the town required the developer to fix up the old graveyard.

The Richards Family Committee worked with the town and the developer. Assistance also came from the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000 and Robert Mosko of Mosko Cemetery Monument Services of Hanover, Pa., who donated his services to repair the broken monuments.

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