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Students Work To Preserve History

By Margaret Morton, LeesburgToday
June 15, 2009

Loudoun Valley High School history students converged on the Union Cemetery in Waterford this weekend for a community project under the watchful eye of Paul Rose, president of Waterford Union Cemetery Inc., and AP History teacher Susan Stevens.

A dozen members of Stevens' class braved the heat and gnats Sunday to help clear fallen trees at the one-acre cemetery, clean moss from 150-year-old tombstones, reset the headstones on a firm foundations where they had fallen over and place Confederate and U.S. flags on the gravesites.

The cemetery, tucked away off a narrow dirt road behind the Waterford Old School, is a quiet, secluded place. Every year during the Waterford Homes Tour & Crafts Exhibit there is a ceremony honoring the dead buried there.

It is not, as its name suggests, a cemetery for Union soldiers who fell during the Civil War, although veterans of both sides are interred there. It stands for the Union of Churches, and contains numerous graves bearing the names of longtime Waterford families, whose members also are buried in the cemetery. The cemetery also contains a separate area that was used for black residents. The cemetery was located in an area originally marked out as building lots along Fairfax Street, now a dirt road with deep ruts.

Not all the graves are marked, and title researcher and historian Jeff Ball said indentations in the ground indicate there are numerous more people buried in the cemetery. Rose said there are approximately eight or nine Loudoun Rangers buried there along with about half a dozen Confederate soldiers and two black Civil War Union veterans.

Judging by the enthusiastic participation of the students, who also heard a bit about the history of the cemetery from Rich Gillespie, a history teacher retired from Loudoun Valley, and Ball, the event was a hit.

The students attended in two shifts and cheerfully hauled tree limbs and brush, sprayed the tombstones with water to loosen the moss, which they then pried loose with wooden sticks and soft scrub brushes. They then lifted up the fallen headstones and bases to then place them back into the dirt, packing them with stone dust to hold them in place.

Caitlin Semo and Victoria Blackwell were enthused as they headed out after the first shift.

Although Caitlin said she normally does not like cemeteries, finding them a bit creepy, both she and Victoria were keen to return next weekend to continue the work. Victoria was fascinated by the outlines of some of the headstones, including circles, crowns and crosses. Caitlin noticed the coincidence of finding Orrison Road, where she lives outside Lovettsville, mentioned on one tomb, while another coincidence surfaced for Victoria: "I found one 1880 stone with my birthday, July 26."

Ball is a title search agent by profession, and he was able to do the research to help a group of residents establish a nonprofit charitable 501(c)(13) organization to maintain and preserve the cemetery. Ball helped stonemason David Via at the cemetery during the Waterford Fair, before eventually taking over the job when Via left the area.

Both Ball and Stevens are LVHS graduates, and both had Gillespie as their history teacher. Stevens is in her fifth year of teaching A.P. U.S. History. "This is a great chance for the students to have hands-on experience of history, and a great way to serve the community also," she said Sunday.

Rose thanked Beth Erickson, who organized the weekend cleanup with Stevens after hearing the cemetery board was asking for volunteer assistance.

"The hard part is to find someone to help," he said, noting that trees fall routinely and the deer equally routinely knock over the sometimes flimsily set and teetering stones.

Rose was particularly appreciative of the help offered by Tyler Robic, who finished a stone now standing erect for the first time in some years. The headstone sat in a plinth, held only by that shallow indentation. Others had a steel rod that rusted and deteriorated over the years, Rose said. Robic got the plinth resettled in a good-sized hole and packed it tightly with stone dust.

Finding the history of those buried in the cemetery also is not easy. In the black section, particularly, some of the headstones contain very little information, and some were made of wood that has rotted away.

Where they are known, some of the stories connected to the graves are poignant.

Rose cited the story of a Loudoun Ranger, who was killed in 1864 and was buried in the cemetery. As recounted in Briscoe Goodhart's story of the Loudoun Rangers in 1896, young Sgt. Flemon B. Anderson, along with several comrades, was visiting the home of his mother near Taylorstown. Mrs. Anderson was holding a Christmas Eve party. Her son was sitting beside a girl whom rumor had it he would marry some day, when the house was surrounded by Confederate troops. In the ensuing mel/e, Anderson tried to escape via the back door, but his saber hook caught in the chair back. He was shot three times as he attempted to extricate himself and a final head shot killed him as he gained the outside of the door. Anderson died in his mother's arms.

Another grave is of an 11-month child, who probably died of disease, Rose said.

Maintaining the cemetery is expensive-about $1,000 for five mowings each year, plus another $1,000 for general upkeep. Last year, for example, removing a tree that was hit by lightning cost $700. The organization had been getting a $1,000 contribution from the Robey Foundation, but this year that amount was reduced by half. The Waterford Citizens Association contributes $300 per year and the Waterford Foundation takes care of the last mowing of the year, just before the fair.

Now that clear title to the cemetery has been established and charitable status gained, the cemetery board can seek to raise funds through donations. "And we do need donations," Rose said.

His goal is to get all the gravestones set upright and old, damaged trees removed.

Rose praised the students for their hard work and cheerful attitude as they cleared up a huge debris pile and scraped moss from the moss.

"The kids were wonderful," he said.