Cemetery Conservation Campaign announced

The Ronceverte Cemetery Commission has announced the start of a campaign to raise funds for the conservation of Riverview and Sunset Cemeteries in Ronceverte. The campaign has a goal of raising $20,000 toward work to improve the cemeteries.

Riverview Cemetery was established in 1883 when the town was being developed. On Feb. 12, 1883, E. L. Kramer, City Councilman and local undertaker, suggested that the new town establish a cemetery. On May 11, 1883, it was decided to purchase property adjacent to the already existing catholic cemetery in the eastern end of Ronceverte. This new location was laid out with lots priced at $5, $8, and $10 lots. A fence was ordered built of white pine with chestnut posts along one fourth of the property with an eight foot evisceration between the cemetery and the Catholic Cemetery. In September 1885, a gate and tool house were ordered erected at Riverview with the gates being completed December, 1886.

The city leaders also recognized the need for an African American Cemetery. On Mar. 9, 1885, the council decided to purchase property for this second cemetery and two lots were acquired on Summers Street in April, 1885 thus establishing Sunset Cemetery. A petition was presented by the African American population in March 1887 for the creation of a road to Sunset Cemetery to accommodate the African American churches.

According to city minutes, the cemeteries continued to be expanded. In December 1887, Riverview was enlarged with the purchase of additional property. At Riverview, improvements were begun to include the planting in 1888 of the oak trees along the front of the property. These trees remain to this day. Mr. R. D. Riddle, a leader of the black community, continued to petition for improvements to Sunset Cemetery and in 1913, he donated property for further expansion of Sunset Cemetery. It was stipulated that the lots in Sunset Cemetery were to be offered for free.

During these years of growth, the oversight of the city cemeteries was done through a Cemetery Commission comprised of members of the City Council. At a meeting of Sept. 1, 1913, the mayor was directed to appoint a committee to assist in improving and beautifying the Cemetery. Mayor Doughty announced the following names of ladies to compose said Committee. Mrs. A. B. C. Bray, Mrs. P. H. Smith, Mrs. A. E. White, Mrs. C. L. Green and Mrs. T. O. Murray. Finally in January 1915, the council created two cemetery committees responsible for the oversight and care of each respective cemetery.

In 1952, the Ronceverte Chamber of Commerce held a fund raiser to make repairs on the cemeteries and at the same time a levy was voted upon to raise funds for the upkeep of the two cemeteries This is voted on every three years but these funds are limited to providing only annual mowing and cleaning of the cemeteries.

The Cemetery Conservation Campaign will raise additional funds to restore the headstones at each cemetery, resetting, cleaning and making them safe.“The headstones are in need of attention,” comments Becky Smith, President of the Ronceverte Cemetery Committee. “Either through normal settling, vandalism or deer, several stones have been turned over and need to be reset. This campaign will raise the funds to make necessary improvements to our cemeteries.”

“The Ronceverte Cemetery Committee has been working over the past decade to make repairs at Riverview and Sunset,” continues Smith. “In 2008 we saw the repairs of the steps at Riverview. In 2010 the walls to the entrance of Riverview were replaced through financial assistance from the Marie Leist Foundation and the WV Department of Highways. At both Riverview and Sunset, the realignment of stones was begun by the Boy Scouts during their encampment in 2013.”

The Ronceverte Historic Landmarks Committee has also been working to help in the Conservation efforts. In 2011, the HLC received a grant to allow for the survey of Riverview and Sunset Cemeteries. Condition reports were done on more than 2500 graves to include indexing, GPS assignment, headstone conditions and photographing of each headstone. Using this report, the HLC is now able to locate graves for persons trying to locate their loved ones. It also helps the HLC identify headstones for conservation efforts and repair.

“This is why the Conservation Campaign is so important,” says Doug Hylton, Secretary/Treasurer for the Ronceverte HLC. “The levy started in 1952 provides the city with only enough funds to keep the cemeteries mowed and cleaned. There are not enough funds to do the much needed improvements to the cemeteries.” Funds will be used to work on the headstones, provide proper cleaning and resetting, continue the survey efforts of the cemeteries, establish a database that is accessible for persons interested in finding family members in the cemeteries, and complete re-landscaping of the grounds and making other improvements as identified by the Ronceverte Cemetery Committee.

“Cemeteries preserve the history of our community,” continues Hylton. “Not only are the founding families of the town buried here, but the history of the town and the individuals who had an impact on the history of our county. Dr. John Whitt DeVebre who founded the first hospital in Greenbrier County in Ronceverte is buried here, as is General Charles S. Peyton, who was promoted to brigade commander following Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. Also found are Colonel Thomas E. “Jock” Clifford, killed during operations in the Philippines in July 1945 while leading his forces against the Japanese, and Moses Denning, millionaire businessman who married the 22nd wife of Brigham Young before settling in Ronceverte and running the Hotel Denning, later Hotel Ronceverte.”

“Many of the families of those buried in Riverview and Sunset are no longer here in Ronceverte or the area. That makes it difficult to contact these families to get help with the conservation of the cemetery”, says Smith. “We know if they were aware of the need for this important work that they would contribute to this effort, but we hope that our campaign will allow us to preserve our history, as well as ensure the proper respect is maintained at the cemeteries.”

The project will also have a social and economic benefit to the town. Once the headstones are made safe for visitors, the historic landmarks commission will begin offering historic tours of the cemetery and will promote tourism to the town. Additionally the re-landscaping of the cemeteries with placement of benches and other improvements will open the cemeteries for use by residents for walking and offer a relaxing park setting for relaxation. Cemeteries are untapped resources that offer ethereal green spaces for visitors of all ages.

Anyone wishing to participate in the Cemetery Conservation Campaign may contact City Hall at 304-647-5455 or may make a donation to: Cemetery Conservation Campaign, P.O. Box 417, Ronceverte, West Virginia 24970.