Major restoration work continues to be undertaken in the graveyard at the historic Newtown Presbyterian Church. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the church building (constructed in 1769) having been commandeered by George Washington and used as a jail and hospital for several hundred Hessian prisoners after the Battle of Trenton.
For the past five years, following a three- day training session in 2018, a group from our congregation designated as the cemetery restoration crew and commonly known as “the gravediggers” has met weekly in the fall, spring, and summer to maintain our graveyard.
Weekly participants are Pam Allen, Mike Bishop, Brent Wiggins and Phil Winn. Frequent assistants are Dave Rolewicz, and Bill Shikrallah. The late Robbie Robinson was a participant prior to his death.
Over the past five years, major repairs have been made to approximately 65 headstones, more than 90 footstones, which were removed many years ago have been restored to their proper location, all headstones have been cleaned at least twice, fallen headstones have been erected, eight missing metal rails have been fabricated and replaced, damaged headstones have been patched, the area containing stones from the Swamp Road cemetery has been updated with the addition of borders and more than 25 bags of marble chips, the entire south wall and portions of the west wall that collapsed have been reconstructed.
We have excavated the bases of many headstones, many of which are more than 2 feet underground, and epoxied them to the appropriate headstones. Some stones that previously were 2 feet high are now 4-plus feet high.
All footstones have the initials of the deceased. There are approximately 20 footstones with no matching headstone. Presumably the missing headstones are underground or were taken away. Newtown historical records indicate that the stone of Isaac Hicks, father of Edward Hicks (not a member of our congregation) was placed 2 feet underground per his instructions.
Thanks to contributions by a number of our congregation, a ground penetrating radar study was recently undertaken. More than 200 potential sites were identified and marked with paint and flags. While the study does not distinguish between rocks, roots and headstones it is anticipated that some of these sites will bear fruit. Missing parts of the James Kennedy headstone were found on our first day of digging.
In addition to our work in the cemetery, the team has taken on other tasks including: the shed was power washed and stained, rotten structural members of the basement access were removed and replaced, benches were power washed and stain applied, repairs were made to deteriorated portions of the Session House walls, a rotten window sill in the sanctuary was removed and refabricated, repairs were made to the sign post. Flags are placed at the graves of all veterans under the guidance of Dave Rolewicz.
New volunteers are welcome to join our team. The only requirement is a sense of humor.