B y Catherine L. Tobin

Residents of Whitehall shared their concerns Thursday during the initial meeting of the cemetery committee formed recently to address problems at the cemetery commonly known as the Boardman Street Cemetery.
Marg Mohn formed the committee in response to concerns over maintenance and vandalism at the cemetery. Some damage has resulted simply from the age of the plots or weather and other natural causes, Mohn said. Many problems need to be addressed soon, she added.
Village resident Peter Terry, who attended the meeting, has dedicated time to mapping plots and graves at the cemetery in part because he has more than 290 relatives buried in the cemetery. In the past he has led repair efforts with Boy Scouts and others in the community.
The cemetery actually consists of three cemeteries: Boardman Street, Smith Street and the Martin cemeteries. Terry noted that the oldest stone in the cemetery is in the Smith section and dated 1795 – Hannah Martin, who died Sept. 17, 1795. He said the Martin section was turned over to the village at some point but he is not sure of that date.
“If it was still private, someone would be paying taxes on it and no one is,” he said. None of the sections appear to be connected in any way to area churches, he added.
Mohn said that the Martin stone was placed “twenty years after Benedict Arnold was here. That’s not much time.” That fact helped determine the age of the cemetery.
Terry said that over time many of the stones have been damaged, sunk into the ground or been moved. He has worked to locate stones under the ground with a pitchfork and patience. This is one problem that continues to plague the three cemeteries. The committee agreed that finding the stones and repairing them if possible was a priority.
Terry noted how he had repaired stones in the past and repair techniques he had learned during his inquiry. He added that much of the work needed in the cemetery is labor.
Mohn also spent time on the cemetery issues. “I have been working on this for over a year, trying to sort some of the issues out,” she said. “John Hollister and his family and the Boy Scouts did some work to help.” The present sign identifying the cemetery was provided as a scout project.
Problems noted by the committee included sinking areas in need of additional top soil, toppled stones and damaged stones, lack of identification on the plots, plots missing from the cemetery maps, matching the plots to names on the historical listings, as well as trimming or cutting older trees, brush and other areas overgrown with weeds. Records indicate that there are between 2,606 and 2,700 graves on this site.
Mohn said the cemetery has a limited trust fund, from which only interest can be spent on upkeep and maintenance projects. She said she will try to determine what if any funds are available for the needed projects. Other sources of funding will also be explored.
The committee determined that brush removal and tree trimming would be the priority items on the list of concerns.
Rob Ballard said that many of the broken stones can be seen or located simply by walking around the cemetery. Terry added that “if you stab a pitchfork down three or four inches you will find a lot of the stones. We did this with the Boy Scouts and laid the stones on the ground so they wouldn’t be tripping people.” He detailed how stones of this type can be saved and left flat on the ground to identify the grave without hindering those working in or walking through the cemetery.
“Basically you’re making a sidewalk out of it, but then the stone is all together and it’s not going to get lost or misplaced.”
The Ballards and Terry agreed that the cemetery is dangerous in its present condition. Many of the heavier stones have toppled and others are ready to topple. In addition, the trees are old and have dead or broken branches, as well as sunken areas where the earth has settled over a grave. Village crews remove debris but new branches are broken with each storm, it was noted.
A second meeting is set for Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. in the town/village offices. Donations and volunteers are welcome, as well as suggestions for completing the needed work.

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