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With Every Stone, A Story: Preserving the Graves of Bedford's Oldest Residents

A seminar and a workshop will be held this month to instruct the curious in cemetery conservation.

Museums are not the only places that preserve artifacts and keep history alive. A wealth of information on local family lineages can be found in the cemetery at the Old Burying Ground, right next to the Village Green in Bedford Village.

There is a ongoing effort to maintain these precious artifacts—the earliest grave marker dates back to 1700—with a seminar and a workshop that will instruct volunteers in the art of cleaning, restoring and documenting information about the grave markers. 

The seminar will held on Thursday, May 19, hosted by the and sponsored by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network. Invited are local historians, educators, librarians, genealogists, and community members who are interested in learning the steps necessary to preserve a vanishing heritage.

According to Bedford's historian, John Stockbridge, there are approximately 30 cemeteries in the town, many of which exist on privately-owned or landlocked property. The town cares for eight cemeteries including the Old Burying Ground, but does not preserve and restore the gravestones.

“From the standpoint of history, the town’s stories are wrapped up in the people who lived here,” Stockbridge says. “With every stone, there is a story. And the curious can come learn about families and what happened in the earliest days of Bedford Village,” he says of the upcoming workshops.

Kerry Sclafani, who is the regional coordinator of the Hudson Valley Documentation Heritage Program, says her organization’s mission is to help advance the work of history-keepers in the greater Hudson Valley—to help preserve historic house museums, heritage centers, archives, libraries and historic sites including cemeteries.

“We want to raise awareness about how vitally important it is that these stones are preserved,” she says. “The workshop’s conservator will teach volunteers how to re-set and repair stones and there will be a discussion about the laws that govern cemeteries.”

Stockbridge, who is also the president of the Friends of Bedford Burying Grounds, will speak about Bedford’s historic cemeteries.

“Many of the stones are broken and need repair,” adds Stockbridge.  “We need volunteers with gloves on, to take part.” 

He describes a noted Bedford couple, Dr. Peter Fleming and his wife, Sarah MacDonald, who lie in the Old Burying Ground. “They were both from prominent families in early Bedford—Fleming served in the Revolutionary War, as the Town Supervisor and as the first Bedford Commissioner of Schools, among other things. The couple lived in a building that is currently part of the Bedford Post.”

The workshop—a  roll-up-your-sleeves restoration effort at the Old Burying Ground, will take place on Saturday, May 21 and is sponsored by the Friends of Bedford Burying Grounds. Volunteers are needed from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., to tend to the Flemings' and other antique grave stones.

Pat Raftery, librarian of the Westchester Historical Society, will soon release a book which narrates some of the stories revealed by cemetary gravestones. He shared with Patch an excerpt about three Bedford children who died in a gunpowder explosion in 1818. Raftery writes that the disaster took place in Bedford Village and was recounted by William Jay, son of Supreme Court Justice John Jay, in his diary.

The children’s graves are at the Old Burying Grounds—one stone reads:

Ah death couldst thou not spare

This youthful bloom

But summoned him so early to the tomb

The lovely youth his parents hope is gone

The beauteous flower is nipped before its bloom 

Susan Warsaw May 13, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Where do we meet up for this? The BHS or the graveyard?
Lisa Buchman (Editor) May 13, 2011 at 12:55 PM
Hi Susan, thanks - good question! On the BHS website it says "BYO work gloves - no experience needed. For more information, click here or call the Friends at (914) 234-9500 or send an email to:bedfordburyinggrrounds@gmail.com."
Kerry Sclafani May 13, 2011 at 01:37 PM
Just a quick note: Pre-registration is required for the Stone Strategies workshop on Thursday the 19th. The workshop is $40 for GHHN members and $45 for non-members. Visit www.greaterhudson.org for more information and to register and pay online. We hope to see you there!
Lisa Buchman (Editor) May 13, 2011 at 06:55 PM
And just to clarify - there are two events mentioned in this story: 1) a volunteer session on Saturday May 21 from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. called "Learn About A Few of Bedford's Oldest Residents." There is a separate, day-long workshop called "Stone Strategies: Documentation, Stewardship & Conservation," being held on Thursday May 19, in conjunction with the Greater Hudson Heritage Network. Visit: http://www.greaterhudson.org/Programs/Stone_Strategies/stone_strategies.html for registration information.
Robyn McCree May 13, 2011 at 09:44 PM
The workshop on SaturdayMay 21st is sponsored by the Friends of the Bedford Burying Grounds. Please meet them at the Old Burying Ground which is located on the Village Green in Bedford, next to Historical Hall (608 Old Post Rd). Bring your own work gloves and a curiosity of Bedford's rich history. If you're not interested in pitching in on the restoration, please come and hear the stories of the earliest settlers. For more information call the Friends of the Bedford Burying Grounds at 914 234.9500 or email bedfordburyinggrounds@gmail.com
Priscilla Brendler May 14, 2011 at 02:36 AM
Hello Susan and Lisa, For exact details on where to meet, park and answers to other import questions for the Thursday, May 19th Stone Strategies program presented by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network, go to our website: www.greaterhudson.org. Follow the link for Stone Strategies. Registration is required for this event and it if filling up fast! You can also register online by following the directions above - it's quick and easy. We hope to see you there! Greater Hudson Heritage Network

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