Tips for Preserving Historic Cemeteries and Burial Grounds
10 Tips for
PRESERVING HISTORIC CEMETERIES
AND BURIAL GROUNDS
congregation, owners, or
responsible for the land.
Cemeteries or burial grounds may
be associated with a religious
organization, located on private
property (which the descendants of
those buried there might still own), or
under the control of a state or local
government. In any event, it’s critical
to coordinate with property owners at
2. Start a support group.
A nonpartisan and nondenominational
“friends” group can work as a neutral
party in planning for the cemetery’s
preservation and maintenance. In
addition, a secular group could be
eligible for state and federal funding from
which a religious group might be exempt.
3. Look for funding and partners.
Creativity is key, as there are not as many resources available for burial
ground restoration as for other types of preservation projects. That said, their
highly local nature makes them good projects for partnerships with historic
societies or civic groups like the Junior League and Jaycees.
4. Pursue historic site
It can be difficult to get a cemetery listed
on the National Register of Historic
Places unless it is part of a historically
significant property or is in a historic
district. However, getting listed on a
state or local register is still beneficial,
as it can make the site eligible for
funding—as well as offer recognition
5. Arrange for training.
Having volunteers with the necessary skills (including surveying, stone cleaning,
and resetting) can be a critical cost-saving measure in the restoration process. The
National Center for Preservation Technology and Training is a valuable resource for
6. Create a map
Having accurate documentation
of what is on the site is critically
to the preservation process, as it
creates a record to work from in
the future. The mapping and
surveying process should include
noting all graves (marked and
unmarked), as well as pathways,
walls, and fences (both for the
perimeter and enclosures), trees
and other vegetation, and any
other features or buildings.
7. Consider future uses.
Before moving into the restoration
physical process, it’s important to
think about the future visitation level
of the burial ground. Is it in an urban
area and likely to get a lot of traffic?
Or is it more rural and therefore less
likely to have many people wandering
through? If you expect heavier
visitation, take that impact into
account when planning.
Loose or unbalanced markers can be a safety hazard for workers and
visitors alike. Put stabilization at the top of the priority list. Likewise,
address any landscape issues that could be dangerous, such as unstable
surfaces or crumbling retaining walls.
9. Develop a maintenance
Cemeteries and burial grounds require
significant ongoing maintenance
following the initial restoration. A
groundskeeper can manage the routine
landscape work, but should do so in a
way that doesn’t damage or disturb the
grave markers. In addition, all stones
should be inspected periodically for wear-
and-tear and be gently cleaned of debris.
10. Make it visitor-friendly.
A few amenities such as trash cans
and informational signs can go a long
way in making a historic cemetery or
burial ground welcoming. In addition,
visitor-friendly activities such as tours
can draw attention to the restoration
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America’s
historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same
in their own communities.
For more information, visit blog.preservationnation.org.https://savingplaces.org/tips-and-tools
Photos courtesy of: Jamie Brandon/Flickr/CC
2.0; Elizabeth Thomsen/Flickr/CC BY NC SA
2.0; Sarah M. Heffern; NCPTT
Media/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0; Wally
Gobetz/Flickr/ BY NC ND 2.0; The U.S.
Army/Flickr/CC 2.0; mmp888/Flickr/CC BY
NC ND 2.0; David Berkowitz/Flickr/CC 2.0;
Cindy Cornett Seigle/Flickr/CC BY NC SA
2.0; NCPTT Media/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0;
Sarah M. Heffern