Originally published October 2004
The Colorado Historical Society’s State Historical Fund (SHF) has been creeping around the state, quietly restoring historic cemeteries for more than ten years. However, statutory regulations and designation issues may restrict the Fund’s ability to support certain aspects of graveyard preservation projects. But that fact shouldn’t frighten potential applicants away.
By state statute, SHF Acquisition and Development projects—those that involve the excavation, stabilization, restoration, rehabilitation, reconstruction, or the acquisition of a property or site—can occur only on officially designated properties. Designated properties include those listed in the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties, the National Register of Historic Places, or a local municipal or county register.
Often the greatest impediment to obtaining historic designation for a cemetery is the issue of ownership. Owner permission usually is required for historic designation, and simply figuring out the ownership of a cemetery is enough to scare the most seasoned researcher! In many early cemeteries each plot was individually owned. Therefore, sorting out current ownership to obtain permission for historic designation is sometimes impossible.
As a state agency, the SHF must honor the division between church and state. The Fund is restricted from restoring gravestones that feature religious images, such as crosses or holy books. The SHF policy states: “grant funds (and cash match dollars) cannot be used to restore religious symbols.” However, the SHF may participate in a restoration project in a limited way by restoring secular stones, while the applicant could restore the rest using other money.
(Be aware, we can help you locate grants and help setup fundraisers in order to restore gravemarkers with religious symbols, as all gravemarkers are created equal.)
Vandalism is an all-too-common problem at historic cemeteries, especially around this time of year. Even so, the SHF is somewhat limited when it comes to funding projects to install new security lighting, new fencing, or other non-historic features. This can be challenging to cemeteries that are trying to safeguard these historic resources. According to program guidelines, the SHF may restore existing historic landscape features and even reconstruct historic features (like fences) that have been lost, but the SHF is unlikely to fund preservation projects that involve the construction of new features.
Before you get frightened away from trying to restore your community’s historic cemetery, know that help is available from the Colorado Historical Society’s Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The OAHP provides a publication called Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places ($2.50 postage or free through the National Park Service website). In addition, the National Park Service publishes many helpful brochures, called Preservation Briefs, which relate to the materials used in historic cemeteries. There are several groups dedicated to the preservation of historic cemeteries, as well, such as the Association for Gravestone Studies, and Saving Graves, found on the Internet. As always, feel free to contact the SHF or OAHP for assistance.
By Rachel Simpson, SHF Technical Advisor
– See more at: http://www.historycolorado.org/grants/cemetery-projects-don%E2%80%99t-ha…