Town of DeWitt Hopes to Save Crumbling Cemeteries

<span id="bIImageViewer_CaptionTextID">This gravesite marker memorializes a member of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a fraternal organization of Union Army veterans of the Civil War.</span>

For the last three decades the Town of DeWitt has done the bare minimum required by state law to maintain three of its historic and abandoned cemeteries. Every few months the town mows the grounds and clears them of litter. But after 30 years of the bare minimum, preceded by decades of neglect, these glimpses into our past are cracking and fading from recognition.

The Messina Springs, DeWitt and North Orville cemeteries date back to the 19th century and are the final resting places to some of the area's first neighbors, including Revolutionary and Civil War veterans. Town board members now hope to go beyond minimal grounds maintenance by restoring the cemeteries.

"Historic preservation is a community obligation," said Town Supervisor Ed Michalenko. "Out of respect for the previous generation and also to pass that on to the next generation is extremely important."

Board members say they'd like to start by installing wrought iron or stone fences around each cemetery before moving on to restore gravesites, though the process won't be easy. In order to make changes to the existing sites and to tombstones the town will have to make attempts to notify previous owners, any living descendants of those buried in the cemeteries and provide ample public notice.

The board also hopes to establish a trust to fund renovations and future maintenance. It could still be six to nine months before the board has a completed plan of action for restoration, but for now the will is finally there to do more to protect these historic sites.