HISTORIC MONTGOMERY COUNTY CEMETERIES
Burial grounds in Montgomery County are in the news these days, after too many years of attracting little interest and concern. Today these precious historic resources have moved onto the radar of neighbors, developers, planners, and public officials, all of whom have vital roles in determining their survival and futures. This article covers burial sites information and current activities at the county and state levels.
The Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory was the first step in addressing a huge problem here and throughout Maryland – that burial sites are neglected, abandoned, undocumented and unmaintained, and that they disappear through lack of protection from development and vandalism.
From 2004-2009, Peerless Rockville led an initiative to identify and document all cemeteries in Montgomery County, with support from Historic Takoma, the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, and a series of grants from the M-NCPPC Historic Preservation Grant Fund. This ground-breaking project resulted in a list of about 325 burial grounds. The inventory includes large currently-operating cemeteries such as Union in Burtonsville and Monocacy in Beallsville, church grounds of black kinship communities such as Sugarland in Poolesville and Ebenezer in Ashton, small family plots with Revolutionary War burials, such as Zachariah Waters in Germantown and Jeremiah Crabbe in Derwood, and family farmland reserved years ago but today in suburban neighborhoods, such as Isaac and Samuel Shoemaker in Bethesda and Haiti in Rockville. Inventory volunteers began with previous lists, personal and published, and added sites as found through multiple sources.
The Cemetery Inventory is accessible through this link montgomeryplanning.org/historic/education/cemeteries.shtm
with additional information in hard copy files at the Montgomery County Historical Society Library in Rockville. Inventory entries are comprised of name, location, description, type of burial ground (family, religious, etc.), and further information as available. Entries are indexed by name and by location.
Knowledgeable individuals understand that other burial sites exist in the County but have not yet been listed in the Inventory. Plans are underway to revisit sites on the original Cemetery Inventory and to continue to add sites as they are identified and researched. Volunteers are invited to contact Glenn Wallace, project coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest in visiting, documenting, photographing, etc. and to provide information.
New Legislation Proposed to Protect Montgomery County Cemeteries:
Local cemetery advocates have been working diligently to convince Montgomery County public officials to pass legislation that will address situations and add regulations to protect and preserve historic burial grounds. Two bills were introduced on June 27, 2017, by Councilmembers Berliner, Leventhal, and Rice and immediately supported by a large majority of other County Councilmembers.
One bill requires the Planning Board to establish and maintain an inventory of burial sites; this must be the Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory, which lists sites in every corner of our county. The second bill addresses the need for burial sites to be considered by staff and public officials during the subdivision approval process.
You may read the proposals here:
The public hearings on September 12, 2017, were opportunities for County Councilmembers to hear and read expressions of support for these bills and a multitude of suggestions for improving them.
For the latest update on this subject, go to Cemetery Protection Legislation 2017
Historic Cemeteries currently in the news:
- White’s Tabernacle #39 Sons & Daughters of Moses cemetery on River Road, from which remains were removed in the late 1950s to make way for a high-rise building and stream management. This cemetery was documented by Little Falls Watershed Alliance volunteers and recognized by Montgomery Planning staff. Currently it is the subject of protests by members of nearby Macedonia Baptist Church concerned about additional remains and commemoration of the black community that no longer exists here.
- St. Paul Community Cemetery in Sugarland, near Poolesville, where descendants and other volunteers have for the past two years been mapping and memorializing a community burial ground. This project follows years of Sugarland Ethno History Project work to document this 19th century black community, restore the church, and share this special place with the public.
Zachariah Waters family cemetery: photo by Tina Simmons
- Zachariah Waters family cemetery in Germantown, where the fenced burial ground contains a Revolutionary War patriot, is badly overgrown. The representative for the owner, which is in the subdivision development process, has denied access to Germantown Historical Society and other volunteers willing to clean it up.
- Isaac Shoemaker family cemetery on Murray Road in Bethesda, where a well-documented burial plot is threatened by a new owner’s refusal to acknowledge the history of this site.
- Rockville Cemetery Association, in conjunction with Peerless Rockville, will conduct Ghost Tours on Saturday evening, October 7. To meet these notable spirits, see detailed information on www.rockvillecemeterymd.org and reserve your tour time at www.peerlessrockville.org
Cemetery Preservation in Maryland
Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites is an all-volunteer non-profit formed in 1991 to combat a horrific situation in Howard County. Since that time, the Coalition has nurtured a state-wide network, dispensed information and support to local advocates, sparked changes to Maryland law, conducted workshops and annual gatherings, and helped solve problems. The Coalition’s session at the 2017 Montgomery County History Conference renewed interest in addressing issues at local cemeteries, including the proposals now before the County Council.
Recently the Trader Foundation for Maryland Burial Sites was created to offer small grants for projects that will benefit cemeteries.
Preservation Maryland, the state historic preservation non-profit, selected Historic Maryland Cemeteries as a 2016-17 preservation concern. During this year-long Six to Fix project, PM has worked closely with the Coalition to bring much-needed attention to neglected and abandoned burial grounds. Thus far, PM has helped the Coalition upgrade its website, sponsored the History Conference session, testified at the General Assembly on legislation, created a PreserveCast, and recorded presentations made at the Coalition’s statewide conference in April 2017. A volunteer day is scheduled for October 28 in Charles County, to which all interested in helping and learning about cemetery research and conservation are invited.
Maryland Historical Trust is the official state agency responsible for historic preservation and archaeology. MHT is concerned about all historic properties and recognizes that many Maryland cemeteries are endangered as well as significant. Through MHT is available the African American Heritage Preservation Grant Program, which has in recent years made substantial grants to properties that include cemeteries.
Maryland General Assembly plays a vital role in cemetery protection and preservation. Some State laws are on the books – prohibiting desecration, authorizing access, requiring approval to move graves and creating the Office of Cemetery Oversight – but there is room for improvement. New cemetery bills are likely to be introduced in the 2018 session. To become an advocate or make suggestions, contact Eileen McGuckian at email@example.com