Northampton cemetery project: Piecing history back together

  • Trent Link, with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, uses a fine mortar to tuck-point a marble gravestone during a restoration at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Trent Link, with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, uses a fine mortar to tuck-point a marble gravestone during a restoration at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dylan Johnson, left, and Trent Link, with Monument Conservation Collaborative of Connecticut, use a wooden collar to lift the top portion of a gravestone during restoration work at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Trent Link with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, points out the portland cement that must be removed from a prior repair attempt on this broken gravestone at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dylan Johnson, left, and Trent Link, with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, use a wooden collar to lift the top portion of a gravestone during restoration work at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The cement remaining from a previous repair attempt will have to be removed before this gravestone at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton can be restored by a crew from Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative. Photographed Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Conservator Martin Johnson, with Monument Conservation Collaborative of Connecticut, talks about restoring a marble obelisk gravestone, suspended by a chain hoist, at Bridge Street Cemetery, one of Northampton’s three historic cemeteries receiving extensive preservation efforts, on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Trent Link evaluates the fit of two pieces of a headstone during restoration work at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Conservator Martin Johnson, with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, weighs out a mixture of epoxy for the restoration of a gravestone at Bridge Street Cemetery, one of Northampton's three historic cemeteries receiving extensive preservation efforts, on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Trent Link, with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, uses a fine mortar to tuck-point a marble gravestone during a restoration at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dylan Johnson, left, and Trent Link, with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, use a wooden collar to remove the top portion of a gravestone during restoration work at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 6/28/2019 12:03:59 AM

Correction: Sarah LaValley is a land-use planner with the Northampton Office of Planning and Sustainability. And, Rev. Jonathan Edwards and Timothy Dwight are commemorated by monuments in Bridge Street Cemetery.

NORTHAMPTON — Workers are almost finished restoring gravestones at the Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton, the final resting place of some of the city’s earliest settlers, community leaders and members of the abolitionist movement. Among those interred at the graveyard, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is first Smith College president L. Clark Seelye, while former Yale president Timothy Dwight and First Great Awakening catalyst the Rev. Jonathan Edwards are commemorated by monuments in the cemetery.

The restoration, which began in early April, is part of a conservation project developed by the Northampton Historical Commission and Department of Public Works. The project also includes restoration work at West Farms Cemetery and Park Street Cemetery.

“Cemetery stones are an incredibly important part of Northampton’s history, and even beyond,” said Sarah LaValley, Northampton Office of Planning and Sustainability land-use planner.

The work is being completed by Monument Conservation Collaborative (MCC), a stone restoration firm based in Norfolk, Connecticut. Plans formulated in 2015 by MCC, Martha Lyon Landscape Architecture and CME Associates included the proposed restoration of more than 220 hazardous, unstable or deteriorating gravestones and monuments, LaValley said, 169 of which are at the Bridge Street Cemetery.

The Department of Public Works applied for funding for restorations from the Massachusetts Historical Commission the same year. The funding was matched by Northampton’s Community Preservation Act, she said.

Martin Johnson, a conservator and MCC partner working on the Bridge Street restorations, noted his firm completed a condition assessment of gravestones about four years ago. Johnson said stones that are likely to fall over and injure visitors are prioritized for restoration. Stones of historical significance are also often prioritized.

“Conserving our past is extremely important, period,” Johnson said.

On Wednesday, Johnson, his son, Dylan Johnson, and Trent Link were working on restoring various gravestones and monuments. The upper half of an obelisk that appeared to mark the graves of members of the Wells family was suspended by a chain attached to a tripod positioned over the monument. Johnson said that although the obelisk was completely fractured, it was found resting upright on its base, the two parts as snug as jigsaw puzzle pieces.

“Something happened to this, and someone probably put it back,” he said. “Typically, when you get stuff like this, it’s usually not vandalism.”

Johnson said most of the damage at the Bridge Street graveyard was caused by falling tree branches and natural weathering. He pointed to a base of a gravestone that he suspected had been eaten away when acid rain, a phenomenon that dates to increased coal production in the mid-1800s, reacted with sulfur used to set the gravestone onto the base, creating corrosive sulfuric acid, he said. Yellow flecks of sulfur were visible in the crack.

To reset broken gravestones, Johnson uses thixotropic epoxy — an adhesive resin that flows when stirred, but turns gel-like when still. These qualities prevent the epoxy from running out of the crack onto other parts of the stone.

While conservators like Johnson have their eyes on preserving the past, he said restoration techniques are also mindful of the future.

“Everything that we do is pretty easily reversible,” Johnson said. “If better techniques come down the line, (future conservators) can use them.”

Johnson is expecting to finish the Bridge Street restorations around July 1. In mid- to late July, he and his team will move on to the Park Streetand West Farms graveyards.


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