Written in Stone

The Friends of the Warrenton Cemetery

By Maggie Lovitt

On the morning of April 13, 2017 disaster struck; nearly one hundred headstones were discovered knocked over and seriously damaged in the Warrenton Cemetery. The shock of this crime quickly shifted into a call for action. Concerned citizens came together and raised nearly 20,000 dollars for the restoration of the damaged tombstones. The vandalized headstones were documented, assessed, and a monument restorationist was contacted. Out of these efforts, under the recommendation of the Town Manager, The Friends of the Warrenton Cemetery foundation was officially established on July 12, 2017.

One year later, The Friends of the Warrenton Cemetery board has a lot to show for their efforts, but it’s just the beginning. In October 2017, Robert Mosko of the Pennsylvania-based Mosko Monument Services spent two days meticulously repairing 10 of the most severely damaged headstones. Over 30 other headstones still require repairs; caused by the March wind storm, the natural aging process, as well last year’s vandalism, and older damage.

Warrenton Cemetery board members, Wendy Wheatcraft and Tony Padden presented the nonprofit’s first lecture in November. Over 30 guests attended “The Symbolism & Culture of the American Graveyard” lecture at the Visitor Center to learn not only about the iconography in graveyards across America, but also about safe cleaning practices for tombstones. Wheatcraft explained the Warrenton Cemetery has a large number of Celtic cross tombstones, as well as other common designs indicating organizations that the deceased belonged to in life (Odd Fellows, Freemasons, etc), and icons symbolizing grief, heaven, and religious affiliation.

March storm toppled trees, but spared the recently restored iconic Nelson family tombstones from major damage. Image by Carter Nevill, board member.

Minute books from the 18th century are official notes from decisions made by the local government. These notes detailed that the cemetery was laid out in 1760, near the site of the original courthouse – where the cemetery is today. The earliest known headstone in the cemetery dates to 1811, but Robert Rose was interred elsewhere upon his death and his tombstone moved to Warrenton sometime after that; which leaves roughly 50 years of unknown burials. It was not uncommon for residents to be buried in family cemeteries in rural areas like Warrenton. Unlike other contemporary towns, such as Culpeper, most of the early churches in Warrenton were outside the town limits, and those within the town did not have cemeteries.

In early February 2018, Maggie Lovitt, fellow board member Karen Lovitt, Tristan Shields (owner of Shields Brothers Media), and Stephanie Monasky surveyed the historical portion of the cemetery with a drone. Over the past five years, drone technology has become an integral part of cemetery research, allowing a birds-eye view of the grounds. Often times, revealing unmarked graves which are hard to identify from the ground.

The Moser Funeral Home generously allowed research of historic records to determine which information was available from early funerals in Warrenton. While the information on cultural aspects of early funerals was fascinating, the records were unable to identify the unknown graves throughout the cemetery.

The Town of Warrenton has erected a new fence along the southwestern border of the cemetery; fencing in areas which were previously open. The March storm brought down numerous trees in the Warrenton Cemetery, including a large tree branch that fell precisely between the recently restored iconic Nelson family tombstones. Luckily, only one tombstone sustained minor damage.

The next project for the Friends will require many volunteers to assist in documenting each tombstone: its material, condition, inscription, location, and other pertinent details. The foundation plans to establish a complete inventory of those interred in the Warrenton Cemetery, which will be available to the public for genealogy, visitation, and general history.

In the wake of the vandalism, news of the incident spread across websites like Ancestry and FamilyTree, and descendants across the country wanted reports on their ancestors buried in the Warrenton Cemetery. This task proved difficult, as some tombstones were previously damaged or worn by weather, or were not located in family plots. It became apparent an inventory was necessary, to document the lives of those that made Warrenton what it is today.

Moving forward, the Friends of the Warrenton Cemetery will host cemetery tours, lectures, and community based events. For more information on how you can volunteer, donate, or assist the nonprofit foundation, visit www.warrentoncemetery.org or email friends@warrencemetery.org.


Friends of the Warrenton Cemetery

Founded: July 12th, 2017
Mission: To restore and preserve the Warrenton Cemetery by raising community awareness and involvement through fundraising, educating and volunteer programing for the benefit of current and future generations.
Board Members: John McAuliff, Matt Iten, Pam Iten, Karen Lovitt, Maggie Lovitt, Carter Nevill, Tony Padden, John Toler, Wendy Wheatcraft, and Maria White

Sponsors: Appleton Campbell, Tri-County Feeds, Fashions, Finds, and The UPS Store (#6028)
Social Media: Facebook: Friends of the Warrenton Cemetery and Instagram: warrentoncemetery

Website: www.warrentoncemetery.org


About the Author: Maggie Lovitt is a local historian with a BA in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington and is working on a Masters in Engaged Anthropology from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. She serves on the board of the Friends of the Warrenton Cemetery and Experience Old Town Warrenton and is the executive director of the Chapman-Beverley Mill. In her free time, she can be found collecting Wedgwood, writing, and talking about Star Wars.

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