Develop a Preservation Plan

The preservation plan for a cemetery should include a basic philosophical approach related to all historic properties and cultural resources as outlined in the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These Standards establish guidelines for identifying character-defining features and treatment options that use specified approaches:

  • Preservation is defined as the act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property. Work, including preliminary measures to protect and stabilize the property, generally focuses upon the ongoing maintenance and repair of historic materials and features rather than extensive replacement and new construction. New exterior additions are not within the scope of this treatment; however, the limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a preservation project.
  • Rehabilitation is defined as the act or process of making possible a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.
  • Restoration is defined as the act or process of accurately depicting the form, features, and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time by means of the removal of features from other periods in its history and reconstruction of missing features from the restoration period. The limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a restoration project.
  • Reconstruction is defined as the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location.

The preservation plan should establish the period of significance for the site and the projected method for protecting and preserving the contributing resources at the site. These could range from historic buildings to elements of the landscape such as paths, walls, and vegetation. Repairs to damaged grave markers, whether historic or recent, are usually considered the financial responsibility of the family, not the cemetery. However, when markers sink, fall over, or are damaged through mowing, vandalism, or acts of God, cemetery funds are often used for resetting or repairs. Stewards of the site must then establish preservation priorities. For instance, what monuments should be repaired and conserved based on their significance, damage, acceleration of further damage, safety of visitors, and the protection of markers from theft or further loss? This will assist in work implementation.

The complete preservation plan must establish a summary history that identifies the historic resources and growth of the site over time and the critical elements that need to be restored or rehabilitated to return the site to the most appropriate level of usage within a given time period. Recommendations for implementation of procedures to stabilize, rehabilitate, conserve, or fully restore natural features or the built environment are best obtained from landscape or conservation professionals once goals and projects are prioritized. See Guidelines for Treatment of Cemetery Components for appropriate measures to be considered.

No matter what direction is followed, a work force is usually needed and funds for preservation or restoration will become a necessity. Help in this regard can come in various forms. First, recognition of the historic burial resource may be achieved by determining whether it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Pursue this process by submitting documentation to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Bureau for Historic Preservation. Second, recognition as a significant historic cemetery eligible for the NRHP may open doors of eligibility for state grant funding or foundation support, provided the applicant is classified by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization.

If these two steps fail and the cemetery is inactive, local promotion through historical societies, the media, and to volunteer organizations can often create a group of interested volunteers to help document and maintain the resource for preservation. Fundraising for revenue must then be undertaken through special events, tours, programs, or product sales. To establish a charitable organization related to a cemetery, see Lapin, Harvey I. "Charitable Foundations: Establishing and Operating a Charitable Cemetery Entity." American Cemetery 78 (August 2006): 14-19. Techniques for promotion of cemeteries to the public or as historical or educational resources can be found through literature and Web sites listed in the Bibliography of Further Resources.