$95K restoration project planned for Deerfield’s Laurel Hill Cemetery

  • The Old Deerfield Cemetery Association is spearheading a $95,000 restoration project at Laurel Hill Cemetery. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/22/2020 2:58:08 PM
Modified: 5/22/2020 2:57:55 PM

DEERFIELD — The Old Deerfield Cemetery Association is spearheading one of the town’s largest cemetery restoration projects.

The $95,000 restoration project includes the repair, stabilization and cleaning of nearly 400 historical gravestones at Laurel Hill Cemetery on Pine Nook Road, according to Chris Harris, who represents the Old Deerfield Cemetery Association.

In March, the Deerfield Community Preservation Committee unanimously approved the association’s application for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding.

If the CPA-funded project is approved by a Town Meeting vote on June 1, it would also be the first 50/50 privately funded and publicly funded historical gravestone project, Harris said. The $47,500 funding match has already been achieved through the support of local organizations, including the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA), Eaglebrook School and Historic Deerfield, among others. Individuals also have contributed.

Laurel Hill Cemetery has been a burial ground since 1800, according to the cemetery’s website. Some of the historical figures buried there include town historian George Sheldon, longtime headmaster of Deerfield Academy Frank Boyden, and a number of the founders of PVMA.

Harris said the town’s cemetery conservation efforts until now have focused primarily on Sugarloaf Cemetery on Sugarloaf Street and Old Albany Cemetery on Old Albany Road. A few years ago, Harris and his family completed some minor restoration work at Laurel Hill Cemetery, where seven generations of his family are buried.

“I think the other cemeteries have been addressed better than this one,” he explained. “There’s still work to be done in other cemeteries, but not on this scale.”

Restoration work at Laurel Hill Cemetery would take about 12 weeks over the summer, he said. And because the work is outdoors and requires only one or two people, the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to impede carrying out the project.

Because of the nature of the work, the project would be most successful if completed between June and September, he said. The restoration solutions used would freeze in the winter months, for example, and certain work can’t be done in the rain.

“The problem with pushing it off another year is there’s unstable stones and they’re bound to fall over,” he said. “We’re trying to get at this now because it’s critical.”

He said the goal of the restoration project is for the association to one day train volunteers to continue the upkeep once the major repair work is done.

The pandemic has, however, impeded the process with respect to the vote needed at Town Meeting to proceed with CPA funds.

“We’re just a little bit behind because our annual Town Meeting was set for April 27 and it got delayed to June 1,” he said. “So we’re going to be racing to get final bids … so we can get things going in June.”


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