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Shepherd University historic preservation students restore historic gravestones

ISSUED: 5 June 2012
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens
(Shepherd University historic preservation students restore historic gravestones)

Shepherdstown, WV--Shepherd University students in Dr. Keith Alexander's Introduction to Historic Preservation class have begun the process of restoring historic gravestones in the Lutheran cemetery in Shepherdstown.

The work is part of a service learning component of the class.

The gravestones, many of which were inscribed and put in place over 150 years ago, have fallen down, are leaning heavily, or have broken over the years. Restoring them will help ensure that the markers, an important historical and artistic record of Shepherdstown's past, survive for future generations.

The efforts were made possible by a grant Alexander received from the Two Rivers Giving Circle of the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation.

"Past classes have cleaned gravestones and recorded the inscriptions," said Alexander. "With these grant funds, I was able to purchase materials that will let students apply proper restoration techniques, too, as well as try out new ways of mapping cemeteries."

The service learning component gives students hands-on experience applying the material learned in the classroom.

"The same kinds of skills of documentation, project planning, and careful treatment of historical resources that you use when preserving a building apply when doing cemetery preservation," said Alexander. "By doing this project, students hone these skills while serving the community."

Andrew Parker, a senior historic preservation major, found that the cemetery project offered some excellent lessons in the challenges encountered when doing historic preservation.

"There's always something unexpected," said Parker. "For example, when we were restoring a headstone, we found that the bottom part of the stone was heavily degraded from resting in the concrete base that was part of an earlier repair. It was pretty interesting to see how moisture had eaten away at the stone over time."

Preserving the cemeteries also helps students relate more directly to the past.

"When I was able to read a headstone after I cleaned it, it gave me a connection," said Wesley Cole, a senior majoring in public history. "It tied together everything that we'd been doing. We're doing this so that this is remembered, so that these stones, these houses, all this stuff is there for the next generation."

The cemetery project will also give students a chance to perform research in the field.

"With this new equipment, the opportunities for student research are virtually unlimited," said Alexander.

Possibilities include comparing cleaning methods over time, comparing different mapping systems, monitoring and evaluating different methods of restoring gravestones, and analyzing the spatial arrangements of the stones to see if there are any patterns. The project can be expanded to Shepherdstown's other cemeteries as well.

"There's plenty of work still to do out there," said Alexander.

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Click on the thumbnail to view a larger image.

Andrew Parker preparing a stone for resetting.

Cleaned stone ready to be documented and reset.

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