By Rick Geffken |
SHREWSBURY – If you’re whistling past Shrewsbury’s Christ Church graveyard next year, it won’t be out of superstitious fear. You’ll probably be reacting to the restoration of 75 historic grave markers in the 300-year old burial ground. Thanks to a recently awarded $117,000 preservation grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust, the Sycamore Avenue and Broad Street final resting place of about 1,500 souls will look, well, old, but better.
Graveyard Commission chairman and parish historian Robert M. Kelly Jr. said the grant enables the parish to continue the important restoration work begun under a previous grant related to Super Storm Sandy. It will also supplement work first started in 2015 under a Department of the Interior grant for storm repair and resiliency efforts. The former project included photographs of every grave marker from multiple angles. The condition of each stone was described and notated – a historical record in itself and a beginning point for future restorations.
Fourteen grave markers in critical condition, mostly 18th century brown sandstones, were expertly restored two years ago by Jablonski Building Conservators, under the supervision of Lorraine Schnabel LLC., an architectural conservation firm specializing in historic masonry. Schnabel’s company also submitted a complete condition assessment, detailed specifications which will guide restoration work funded by the new grant.
Kelly is pleased by the results to date. “Grave marker repair can be a complex process depending upon the composition of the marker,” he said. “Is it made from granite, marble, sandstone or slate? And the condition of the stone: Is it broken, delaminated, leaning, etc.? Multiple steps also involve chemicals and adhesives. Considerable training and experience is required.”
The Christ Church burial ground has been in use continually since its inception, forming a historical record of the evolution of the area. Eight hundred eighty individual markers have been recorded and mapped, with the likelihood that more are just below the surface and out of sight.
Kelly became highly involved with the Christ Church Cemetery some years ago when he and Trevor Kirkpatrick undertook an immense project to identify all the folks interred there. Kirkpatrick plotted and photographed each individual gravesite, then created a searchable genealogical database invaluable to researchers. New and overlooked information about Shrewsbury history, religious and secular, was discovered.
Kelly’s foresight is now rewarded. “The funding demonstrates the recognition by the New Jersey Historic Trust of the value of grave markers in understanding our history,” he says. “Further, the grant includes funding for a grave marker cleaning workshop for the public and a self-guided tour that makes the history more accessible and vibrant for the community.”
Richard Veit, chair of the department of history and anthropology at Monmouth University and a leading expert in New Jersey graveyards, will develop the curriculum for the self-guided tour of the cemetery.
This article was first published in the Oct. 12-19, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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