Cemetery preservation work nets award | SummitDaily.com

Cemetery preservation work nets award

BRECKENRIDGE – High winds that damaged Valley Brook Cemetery extensively in 1997 have resulted in a preservation award for Breckenridge town officials six years later.

May 28, the town received a State Honor Award from Colorado Preservation Inc. for the town’s cemetery preservation master plan. The plan provides a framework to conserve and manage the pioneer graveyard and reduce vandalism by monitoring the property.

“The preservation of this important element of your cultural landscape sets an important standard for municipalities across the state,” said Mark Rodman, executive director for Colorado Preservation.

Preservation components of the plan describe the methods to be used when revegetating the cemetery, restoring gravestones, fences and other features and for using the cemetery as a teaching resource. Another goal is to provide direction for a volunteer stewardship program to maintain the cemetery.

The historic cemetery suffered severe damage on Halloween night in 1997, when 100 mph winds blasted through the cemetery, leaving more than 1,000 fallen trees, twisted fences and overturned gravestones in its wake.

Town officials toured the cemetery the following day; Mayor Sam Mamula said the damage was so extensive, he thought repairing it would be overwhelming.

In response to the wave of public concern that followed, the town applied for a grant from the Colorado Historical Society to develop a preservation master plan. The town then hired the Landplan Design Group of Denver, which formed a team of land planners, monument conservators, an ironwork restoration specialist, an archaeologist, a historian and a botanist.

Monument conservator David Via of Round Hill, Va., repaired gravestones, many of which had been broken, cracked, soiled and toppled during the storm.

Ironworks specialist Paul Cornet of Westminster restored the damaged fence panels and gates on 16 plots. Work involved straightening the deformed metal with as little change to the original finish as possible. He did this by taking each panel to a metalworking shop and putting it in a hydraulic press to slowly bend the cast iron to its original shape.

The Stewart Ironworks Company of Covington, Ky., replicated a Victorian-era gate someone stole shortly after the storm. Gates and fences made by the Stewart Iron Works Co. can be found throughout the world, including at Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, the Panama Canal and at many U.S. historic sites.

Breckenridge resident John Cooney donated $10,000 to the town to purchase an entrance gate, said town clerk Mary Jean Loufek.

Harris Construction restored the cemetery’s wooden fences and the 92-year-old sexton house. Additionally, local botanist Nancy Redner, along with volunteers and the town public works department, cleaned up and revegetated the landscaping.

Restoration efforts cost more than $150,000, but town officials say the rewards are worth it.

After the plan was completed last year, the Cultural Resource Historians of Fort Collins surveyed the 120-year-old cemetery and deemed it eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to town historian Rebecca Waugh, the work has inspired numerous other rural Colorado communities to restore their historic cemeteries.

The town made a variety of operational changes to the cemetery as well.

The town is considering not plowing the roads in the cemetery, as plow blades can damage nearby plots. Waugh said she is concerned about the pauper section of the cemetery, which is located along the northeastern edge near Airport Road.

The pauper section is set aside for people who can’t afford a cemetery plot or whose family cannot be located. While many headstones in that section still remain, many graves can only be located by their prominent depressions in the ground.

The pauper section isn’t used as often as it was in the mining days, but the town did bury a man there this summer after an exhaustive search failed to locate any family members.

Other sections of the cemetery are divided by religious denominations and fraternal organizations.

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