Debra McBride and Ann Brown push aside vines and serious overgrowth to walk through Hopewell Cemetery. Although records indicate around 149 are buried there, only 45 markers are visible through the tall grass and weeds.
In fact, if it weren’t for the sign, it would be easy to drive by the patch of land close to Iron Works gym without realizing it’s a cemetery.
So far, Hopewell is just one of 35 cemeteries in Warren County that have been identified as inactive or endangered. Warren County Genealogical Historical Association is one organization hoping to change that.
“The cemetery project is something that the WCGHA started close to a year ago,” said organizer Brown. “Our first goal is to identify all the cemeteries in Warren County, map them and get GPS coordinates, driving instructions, and look for cemetery deeds or if it is on someone’s private property.”
Sadly, the organization has already identified 10 cemeteries that are destroyed meaning there is nothing there anymore. In certain cases, cemeteries have even been bulldozed down with a house built over them.
Brown says the organization has around 350 cemetery names on its list, but around a third are duplicated because people call them by different names over the years. Back in the 1990s, the WCHA also helped with the creation of four volumes of cemetery books.
“We need to raise public awareness so these cemeteries aren’t destroyed in the future,” said Brown. “Hopewell is a cross between inactive and endangered. There is a burial as late as 2014 which is surprising when you look at the state of the cemetery.”
Seeing a need, McBride is spearheading the WCGHA Preservation Committee focused on cleaning and removing unwanted vegetation at cemeteries needing help with upkeep.
“I found a new cemetery not documented and I went out last weekend to clean it,” said McBride. “If only those places could talk … I just feel like it is a respectful thing.”
Both McBride and Brown admit the WCGHA cemetery project can be overwhelming, but they are doing what they can to capture history. In fact, they are hoping to encourage more volunteers to help with the cleanup effort.
“I can’t do it by myself,” admitted McBride. “Some of these cemeteries are small and some are huge. At this point, we need volunteers to help mostly with vegetation removal like mowing, cutting vines and thorns and cleaning up the grounds.”
Now that WCGHA has been classified as a nonprofit, Brown hopes to apply for grants in the future.
For more information on how you can help or volunteer, contact Debra McBride at 808-9900 or Donna Sullivan at 808-1454.