Saturday, January 2, 2010

Restoration Work in Historic Richmond Cemeteries

Volunteers reclaim Hollywood, Shockoe Hill cemeteries

A new stone now stands where one needed retoring within the Presidents Circle.

David Gilliam, general manager of Hollywood Cemetery, points out a few of the steps that have already been made in the restoration process.

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Location: Fourth and Hospital streets, Richmond
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

A Who’s Who of those buried in two of Richmond’s historic cemeteries.
In Shockoe Hill Cemetery, which opened in 1822:

John Marshall: former chief justice of the United States

Elizabeth Van Lew: Union spy during the Civil War who organized an extensive informants network and assisted Union prisoners

Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton: beloved of Edgar Allan Poe as a teenager

John Wickham: prominent lawyer who defended Aaron Burr in his 1807 treason trial

William Foushee: first mayor of Richmond

William H. Cabell: governor of Virginia from 1805 to 1808

Peter Francisco: known as the Sampson of the American Revolution; celebrated by George Washington and others for feats of strength and bravery

Jane Stanard: family friend and inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “To Helen”

John D. Blair: prominent Presbyterian minister and city leader

John Allan: along with wife Frances, took in a young Edgar Allan Poe but didn’t formally adopt him

Johnson Jones Hooper: noted mid-19th-century humorist

SOURCE: Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery

In Hollywood Cemetery, which opened in 1848:

James Monroe: president of the United States, 1817-1825

John Tyler: president of the United States, 1841-1845

Jefferson Davis: president of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865

J.E.B. Stuart: Confederate general

Ellen Glasgow: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, 1942

Lewis Ginter: Richmond leader of American Tobacco Co., creator of Ginter Park and builder of The Jefferson Hotel

John Harvie: delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress, 1777-1778; a signer of the Articles of Confederation; his estate became the site of Hollywood Cemetery

Matthew Fontaine Maury: Confederate scientist considered the father of modern oceanography

Lewis F. Powell Jr.: Supreme Court justice

Edward Valentine: sculptor whose most famous work is the recumbent statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee

Published: December 28, 2009

The ravages of time, nature and society had left their marks on two of Richmond's most historic cemeteries.

Trash and debris littered Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Jackson Ward, where cars had crashed into the brick wall lining the perimeter of the city's first municipally owned cemetery not associated with a church.

Hollywood Cemetery near Oregon Hill was pummeled in 2003 by Hurricane Isabel, which toppled more than 100 mature trees to block every road and damage many monuments. Other headstones suffered from botched repairs, while tourist buses had wrecked important ironwork.

The cemeteries, both on the National Register of Historic Places, are the burial grounds for some of Virginia's most prominent people: U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, governors and mayors.

Now the cemeteries are benefiting from two volunteer organizations -- Friends of Hollywood Cemetery and Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery -- that formed recently to bring new attention to the riches and the needs of each place.

"We're reclaiming it and making it part of the city again," said Jeffry Burden of the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery.

. . .

Hollywood Cemetery, established in 1847, was one of the nation's first cemeteries designed in the "rural style," with meandering roads that follow the contours of 135 acres overlooking the James River just west of downtown.

The center of attention is Presidents Circle, where Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler are buried. Other notables elsewhere in the cemetery include Confederate President Jefferson Davis, six Virginia governors, 22 Confederate generals, two Supreme Court justices, Confederate soldiers, business leaders and literary figures.

Monroe, who died in 1831, was moved to Hollywood in 1859. The sarcophagus of the nation's fifth president is topped by a 12-foot-tall cast iron "birdcage." Tyler, who died in 1862, is buried beneath a monolithic granite shaft erected by the federal government in 1915. At the top, a bronze Greek urn is supported by two eagles. A bronze bust of the 10th president stands on a pedestal at one side.

A survey by Pennsylvania consultant Robert Mosko in 2007 estimated that a full restoration of the cemetery and its monuments could cost $7 million. Even though Hollywood remains an active cemetery, income from about 200 burials a year produces only about half of the cemetery's $1 million to $1.5 million operating budget, with only about $75,000 allocated to restoration and preservation, said cemetery director David Gilliam. The rest of the operating budget comes from investment income.

So Friends of Hollywood was created to concentrate on raising money. The first phase has a goal of $1.5 million to $2 million, said Mary Hoge Anderson, a Friends board member. That amount would repair Presidents Circle and cover repairs in surrounding areas. Because the Friends group is set up as a 501(c)(3), it's eligible for grants and matching gifts that the nonprofit cemetery would not be able to qualify for under its 501(c)(13) status.

The project already has received $50,000 from the Roller-Bottimore Foundation and $20,000 from the Marietta M. & Samuel Tate Morgan Jr. Foundation, both of Richmond. Restoration work has begun within the circle to repair some of the damage, including from Hurricane Isabel.

Where a falling tree had shattered the marble cross for Mary Heath Davenport Newton in Presidents Circle, a replacement stone once again is identical to the cross of Elise Williams Atkinson beside it.

A new headstone has been created for Eliza Maury Withers, whose father, Matthew Fontaine Maury, is portrayed on Monument Avenue as the "Pathfinder of the Seas." A long-ago repair with mortar had left black streaks across the face of her headstone. The new marble stone is identical in size and shape to the original.

Other remaining projects include repairs to the ornamental cast iron fence, only a third of which remains intact across from Presidents Circle. The rest was destroyed by tour buses before the area was declared pedestrian-only.

"The cemetery is similar to a historic structure that you want to preserve," Anderson said. "That's what we're trying to do here."

"The challenge," Gilliam said, "is to build an endowment so that when we're no longer active with sales, we can operate."

. . .

Shockoe Hill Cemetery may be one of the most overlooked cemeteries in the city.

The city-owned cemetery, where Chief Justice John Marshall is buried, opened in 1822 on 12.7 acres in North Richmond as the cemetery at St. John's Episcopal Church in Church Hill neared capacity.

But through the years, as burials at Shockoe Hill became less frequent -- just three in the past 28 years -- the cemetery fell into a state of disarray. A few family plots remain, but otherwise, the cemetery is full.

When the John Marshall Foundation celebrated Marshall's 250th birthday at his gravesite in 2005, "the cemetery didn't look like we wanted. It was not being maintained," said Doug Welsh, who helped organize the Friends of Shockoe Hill group.

Maintenance of Shockoe Hill rests with the city, but the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery is taking a vested interest in beautifying and promoting the cemetery near the Gilpin Court public-housing complex.

A few years ago, the John Marshall Foundation contributed $1,800 to have a historical marker placed at the cemetery. The Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery organizes groups of volunteers to take on duties such as providing upkeep for gravesites, raking leaves or cosmetic work with the Keeper's House.

Across Hospital Street lies Hebrew Cemetery, a private cemetery affiliated with Congregation Beth Ahabah. Hebrew and Shockoe Hill cemeteries form the largest parcel of land in Jackson Ward, said William B. Thalhimer III, chairman of the Hebrew Cemetery committee.

The two organizations work in conjunction to beautify their cemeteries in an effort to become a park environment for all of Jackson Ward, Thalhimer said.

Within the past six months, Welsh said, a plethora of volunteers have come forward to help with the cemetery --from high school groups to Revolutionary and Civil war groups.

O. Wayne Edwards, cemeteries manager for the city, said the city and the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery have a good working relationship as they move toward the common goal of increasing public awareness of the cemetery.

"It's great what they're doing; we furnished the records and whatever help they need, they call me and we get it done," Edwards said.

The cemetery is filled with history and the remains of thousands of people, from the prominent to the poor. One section of Shockoe, along the intersection of Fourth and Hospital streets, is a site of single graves for Confederate soldiers, paupers and stillborn babies, Welsh said.

Ultimately, the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery sees the cemetery becoming a place that attracts genealogical groups, historical groups, and families that want to visit their ancestors or reclaim burial sites. The group also aims for programming next year that celebrates the cemetery's rich history.

Despite being surrounded by the city, a tranquil quiet washes over the cemetery. Welsh said Shockoe Hill is his place to unwind and consider life among the headstones.

"Life goes by you quickly; we need as much time to reflect as we can," he said.