Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Project
Abstract Submitted for Oral Presentation by Anne Brockett
Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit
October 19-21, 2009
The Montgomery County (Maryland) Cemetery Inventory Project is an ongoing project to document and protect the county’s many cemeteries. In 2003, members of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites identified several goals towards preserving historic cemeteries in Montgomery County and formed an informal Montgomery County Coalition. The group’s initial objectives were divided into phases, with the most urgent being identification of all cemeteries in the County and compilation into one discreet inventory. A second phase would build on the data collected in Phase I for further planning towards cemetery preservation initiatives.
The project is now in Phase V with continuing support from the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission and additional sponsorship from the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, Peerless Rockville, and Historic Takoma, Inc. The project has been coordinated by Anne Brockett, an architectural historian with specific interest in cemetery preservation.
The project’s purpose is not to identify each burial or to record specific gravestone information. Rather, it is to create a baseline of information on this resources type so that decision-making is informed, actions can be taken and policies developed – all with the goal of protecting the county’s historic cemeteries for future generations. The initial thrust was to compile a working list of cemeteries, locate them, photograph them, and complete a survey form for each one. To date, 260 cemeteries and burial locations have been identified and surveyed, including prehistoric sites, as identified by the County archaeologist.
Specifically, the projects phases were as follows:
Phase I (2004) goals included identifying the county’s numerous family, community, and religious cemeteries and creating a database to compile information about each one. Using existing published and unpublished lists of burial grounds, a Microsoft Access basic database was developed. Volunteer surveyors were trained and dispatched to each cemetery to collect locational information using handheld GPS units, photograph the site, and complete survey forms and log sheets.
Phase II (2005) saw the creation of a GIS map showing the locations of all cemeteries linked to the initial database. Work also continued to input field survey data into the database and to expand it with new research and additional cemeteries. A Cemetery Watchlist was developed to identify the county’s most threatened cemeteries.
During Phase III (2006) edits were finalized for the Access database and GIS map for delivery to the Montgomery County Planning Department to assist in locating cemeteries for owners, developers, and planners. All survey forms and the GIS-generated map were posted on the County’s Historic Preservation Office website. Each inventory form, search indexes, and a cemetery bibliography are now available at http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/historic/education/cemeteries.shtm. The paper copies of the files were delivered to the Montgomery County Historical Society where they are available for public research at the library. The project also developed strategies for preserving and promoting historic cemeteries, such as those identified on the Watchlist.
Phase IV (2008) built on the efforts of Phases I-III by identifying and reaching out to cemetery owners and the public regarding the cultural, artistic, educational, and historical importance of cemeteries. In order to determine what types of products, programs, or assistance would be welcomed by cemetery owners and caretakers, a questionnaire was developed in consultation with the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites to ascertain owners’ needs and interest levels. Each owner of record as well as known caretakers (e.g. adjacent neighbors) was mailed a copy of the questionnaire, which also included information about the Cemetery Inventory Project. The County’s GIS, which includes tax data, helped locate owner names and addresses.
Results of the questionnaire are still being returned with positive responses for information on cemetery history and care, both in print form and/or through training. The current Phase V (2009) will assess these needs to develop appropriate training, workshops, and publications that best address the most pressing interests of cemetery caretakers. The work continues….
Anne O. Brockett
Anne Brockett is an architectural historian in the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Office. After receiving an M.S. in Historic Preservation from the University of Oregon, she worked as a cultural resources specialist with URS Corporation on preservation projects nationwide and as a preservation planner for the City of Rockville, MD. Her work with cemeteries includes managing the Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Project, a largely volunteer effort that surveyed over 250 cemeteries in Maryland; preparing a cemetery restoration guide; and drafting cemetery design guidelines. She teaches an introductory course in Historic Preservation at Montgomery College and sits on the board of Montgomery Preservation, Inc.