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Restoration underway at Harper Cemetery

By Staff | Oct 26, 2018

Greg and Lynn Vaughn, trustees of Harper Cemetery, demonstrate what is involved in restoring headstones at the historic site. Photo by Toni Milbourne.

HARPERS FERRY — Members of the Harpers Ferry Woman’s Club and their guests were the recipients of information during a gathering at Harper Cemetery on Oct. 18. The annual club event featured cemetery volunteers Greg and Lynn Vaughn sharing how they have been working help restore the cemetery, as well as educate individuals about its history.

Greg began the evening, sharing how the cemetery came into existence. He said Robert Harpers, traveled to “the hole” as the Harpers Ferry area was called then, fell in love with it and never left. Harper negotiated a sale of 125 acres from Lord Fairfax and set the standard for developing the town that would become Harpers Ferry.

Upon his death in 1782, it was found that Harper had willed that a four-acre prime spot be set aside as a cemetery “set aside for the dead.” Harper is buried within the cemetery to which he left the land.

A board of trustees was established by the town mayor in the 1800s to oversee the cemetery, which gained additional land in the 1960s, as a donation from resident Gilbert Perry. The board continues today to have seven members who oversee the upkeep of the site. Over the past few years, the trustees have expanded into restoration of stones and determining exactly where graves may exist.

“Since 2016, the board has been very active,” Greg said. “There is a website, a Facebook page and individuals can donate to what is now a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization.”

The trustees had the Perry plot surveyed, determining an additional 124 burial sites are now available for purchase, as well as some other empty spots within the original acreage.

Throughout the cemetery, restoration of the headstones is evident, as years of mold and decay are slowly being washed away through the board’s efforts. The headstone at Robert Harper’s grave is nearly pristine, as are other stones throughout the cemetery, after a restoration professional was contracted by the trustees.

According to Lynn, some of the individuals buried within the cemetery gates are well-known: Jenny Chambers, who witnessed John Brown’s raid; Rev. Nathan Cook Brackett, founder and first president of Storer College; and Major William Broaddus, who served in the American Revolution.

Broaddus’ stone was discovered by trustees Hardy Johnson and Greg by accident, when they attempted to remove what they believed was just a rock protruding from the ground. Upon excavation, they found the Broaddus stone had fallen and sunk into the ground, becoming covered with dirt and grass.

To prevent other stones from sharing the same fate, Greg and other volunteers have taken a course in how to restore stones. Greg demonstrated how digging with a shovel is done, until getting close to the stone. One then switches to using plastic and trying not to touch the stone until it has been raised in a secure, upright position. The hole is filled with marble chips, which won’t damage other types of stone, Greg said.

To learn more about the cemetery, visit www.harpercemetery.org.