Restoration of cemetery continues

Published 9:56 pm Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Suffolk church continued restoration work on its cemetery over the weekend.

Macedonia Baptist Church on Crittenden Road held a cemetery cleanup on Saturday to clear out leaves and overgrowth and plant new shrubs. The cemetery dates back to the 1890s and holds approximately 300 graves.

More than 35 volunteers assisted in the cleanup, including Western Tidewater Regional Jail inmates. The morning began with coffee and doughnuts, while lunch had hotdogs and hamburgers, according cemetery restoration committee member Gladys Mills.

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“It’s a wonderful event for the inmates as well as the congregation,” Mills said. “We clean, we eat, we talk, and the pastor gives a word.”

She said she looked at all the inmates’ faces while the pastor spoke, and she believes they thoroughly enjoyed the message. All of the inmates are serving short-term sentences, and were invited to the church after their release.

“They helped us tremendously,” church pastor Stanley Eley said. “A lot of what we did, we couldn’t have done without them.”

Eley said the church committee will plan for the next cleanup this year, as the church seeks to repair broken headstones and recognize unmarked graves.

“We may not know their names, their dates of birth, or the days they died, but we do acknowledge that they are there, he said.”

Last September, church members met with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Suffolk city staff and Blair Bros. Construction to address erosion at the cemetery. Poor drainage caused graves to sink and burial vaults to be exposed.

Blair Bros. volunteered to cover costs exceeding $17,000 and sought help in assessing the situation from the archeology department at the College of William and Mary and the James River Institute for Archaeology.

About 14 graves were temporarily moved to allow for under drains, back filling, rip-rap, topsoil and hydro-seeding.

“They did major work free of charge,” Mills said.

The church is relatively small, with about 45 active members, many of whom are elderly, according to Eley. He is grateful for the community support in restoring the cemetery and is impressed by the progress.

“If you go out and look at the cemetery, you will see it’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s come a long way.”