Sunday, May 19, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Volunteers Lloyd Collins, left, and Ray Files set a repaired headstone back on its base at Hart-Riggs Cemetary along Kings Valley Highway near Dallas Thursday.
October 09, 2012
DALLAS -- Thomas Hart, Melissa McDowelland James O'Neil finally have sunlight on them again.
Well, at least on their headstones.
The trio are among the 58 people buried in the nearly forgotten Hart-Riggs Cemetery located south of Dallas off Kings Valley Highway.
The last burial at the cemetery was in 1947.
Six weeks ago the cemetery was covered by brush and young trees. Many of the grave markers weren't even visible -- and just as many were knocked over or damaged.
Thanks to the effort of many volunteers -- especially that of Monmouth resident Ray Files and Lloyd Collins, of Dallas, who never miss a work party -- the cemetery has been cleared and many of the headstones repaired.
"It was unbelievable. We didn't know any of these were here," Files said, pointing to a line of gravesites that were overrun with trees and blackberry bushes less than two months ago. "We couldn't see any of these little ones. It was just all brush."
Files said one Saturday, as many as 10 volunteers showed up at the site to lend a hand. Each Saturday since, there have been at least three or four helpers.
At first, Files said he just wanted to remove the brush and trees and leave repairing the headstones to an expert in the field. Most of the cemetery was cleared in two weeks, so that plan soon changed. Volunteers found instructions and materials online and began to restore the grave markers themselves.
"We became the experts," Files said as he and Collins prepared to place Melissa McDowell's headstone back on its base.
They use an epoxy designed for repairing gravestones and have poured new bases for some headstones in need of better support. Others were attached to boards to keep them upright.
They even borrowed a tripod to move the heaviest of headstones. Files wants to have each one back in place within two weeks.
"It sure does feel good to see these headstones standing up straight," Collins said. "I don't know how many years they've been down."
He said he started to feel a sense of accomplishment at the work party the grave marker of Thomas Hart -- the person buried in Hart-Riggs who was born the earliest, in 1788 -- was repaired.
"It felt good to have him standing up," he said. "It felt like we finally made some progress, although we had set up a lot of small ones. To get that one set up, it made me feel good."
The work will continue each week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon until the cemetery is restored -- or as much as possible.
After the headstones are repaired, Files said the plan is to place wood chip pathways between the rows and clean and seal the gravestones. Once the process is complete, the group will try to have the cemetery registered with the state, which will then take over maintenance.
To learn more about the project or to volunteer, go to www.polkcemeterysavers.org.
Donations for restoring Hart-Riggs and other Polk County cemeteries are being accepted through the Polk County Historical Society. For more information: 503-623-6251.