By Morgan Bunn
Do you love old stones? History? Lewisburg? The Greenbrier Valley? Do you have deep roots or short trails in Greenbrier County? Did your ancestors arrive generations ago or did you pass through and find heaven and decided to stay? Can you touch the headstone of a great-great grandparent or have you walked by a tombstone or a cemetery and wonder about the souls who inhabit the grounds? If any of these questions have struck a chord, then the Greenbrier Historical Society invites you to attend CEMETERY 101 – A hands on workshop offering the ins and outs of cemetery preservation and the proper techniques for cleaning and caring for tombstones to be offered on Saturday, May 16 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on the grounds of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church.
Have you ever wondered about the Old Stone Church Cemetery? The basics are well recorded. Built in 1796, the Old Stone Presbyterian Church is most likely the oldest church building in continuous use west of the Allegheny Mountains. The first recorded burial in the churchyard is believed to be the superintendent of construction, a man known only by his last name, Litz. It is believed he was killed when struck by a stone falling off the construction scaffolding. In recent months, an in depth survey has been conducted at the Old Stone Church Cemetery in an effort to identify every person within the cemetery grounds. From 1796 until the present, about 1,890 people have been buried on the grounds with approximately 1,100 of those people having individual or shared headstones. In total, there are over 950 headstones or monuments within the grounds with the oldest original standing stone dating to 1806.
A stroll through the graveyard can reveal that many of the tombstones and monuments hold clues to the lives once lived and are, in and of themselves, works of art, holding special tributes to departed loved ones. There are fallen doves, reclining babies, huge obelisks, gates of paradise, and old weathered sandstone markers hand carved and fading in time. Many of the stones are covered in lichen and mold, and some in recent months having undergone a cleaning. Through cleaning efforts, more stones have been identified and clues to past lives are being revealed. Have you spotted the old carriage road? Have you even seen a tombstone blooper? Or wondered about small names or initial on the bottom of stones?
If these old stones could talk, what tales they would tell. The two young Ott brothers killed by a car while walking on a country road – buried together for an eternity. Or the three young Caldwell girls, who died within days of one another from diphtheria or the Rader family who lost four family members in one month, including brothers serving together in the Confederate Army. A young boy attending the Greenbrier Military Academy drowned while swimming in the Greenbrier River and had to be buried before his parents could even be notified of his untimely death. There are the young mothers who died giving birth and the many babies who did not live past their first year. There are 24 marked graves, and countless unmarked graves, from 1861 when Typhoid fever and diphtheria epidemics claimed more lives than any time prior.
To honor these lives, some may be links in your own family chain, please come and learn a little about the history that lies within the cemetery and how to care for the headstones and monuments left to honor the lost lives.
Cemetery 101 is the first workshop in a three part series being offered this summer by the Greenbrier Historical Society. And be on the lookout for dates and times for Cemetery 102: If These Old Stones Could Talk – A History of the Old Stone Church and the People who lie within; and Cemetery 201: A Beginner’s Guide to Repairing Broken and Worn Tombstones and Monuments.
Please save the date – Saturday, May 16 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. A $20 workshop fee is being charged which will include a boxed lunch and a bucket of proper tools needed for the safe cleaning of tombstones and monuments. For more information please contact the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304-645-3398 or stop by the North House at 301 West Washington Street to pick up a registration form. Spaces are limited. Hope to see you there!