Springfield Burying Ground project moving ahead

The Springfield Burying Ground, the first platted cemetery in Springfield, is undergoing a restoration this year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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The Springfield Burying Ground, the first platted cemetery in Springfield, is undergoing a restoration this year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

A project preserving and bringing new life to one of Springfield’s oldest sites is moving into high gear this spring.

For the next six months, work will be ongoing to restore the Springfield Burying Ground, also known as Columbia Street Cemetery. The intention to preserve the graves of those interred there – which include seven who served in the Revolutionary War, including one who was at the Boston Tea Party, and one from the War of 1812 – while adding new fencing, the addition of a statue and other improvements that will preserve history, give a glimpse into the early days of the city and give community members and visitors another unique place to visit.

Those traveling down Columbia Street view the progress over the warm-weather months. Hopes are to have a rededication event on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, said Tom Loftis, the president/coordinator of the Springfield Burying Ground Restoration Committee, made up of several people interested in history and community improvements.

“I listened to the stories and I became intrigued,” said Loftis. “These men and women were the founders of this community. It just needs treated with more respect and to teach history.

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Serving as Springfield’s first public burying ground in 1801 and authorized by James Demint, one of Springfield’s founders, it was active until 1863.

Started in the middle of the 2010s, the project has seen small steps leading up to now. The minimal record-keeping at the time has made it a challenge as at the time, people were buried in wooden boxes and the those who couldn’t afford that were buried in a sheet, while others were buried without authorization.

As decay made it hard to fully account for the number of graves, money was raised to hire a surveyor with a ground-penetrating radar in 2017 to locate those not marked. It was a start.

Also contributing was Chris Hazel, a Springfield native who is a forensic archaeologist in helping shed light where the incomplete records would’ve helped.

The project gained more momentum in 2018 by gaining a 501C3 and a deed from the city for the repair and maintenance on the burying ground. An endowment was also set up.

When completed, the new Springfield Burying Ground will have a walkway entrance and what will resemble a large rectangle with brick pavers. The Revolutionary War veterans will get new headstones with vitals on them that people can view easier.

Some headstone had broken off and a national headstone preservation group is helping with the restoration of the markers.

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“It will be designed so people in walkers or wheelchairs can also visit,” said Loftis.

At the center will be a bronzed eight-foot statue of Demint, along with several bronze plaques.

The biggest expenditure according to Loftis is the fencing, which will be a wrought iron fence with a limestone cap.

Some of the trees that were close to dying were removed and others were treated and preserved and fertilizer injected. Loftis stressed local contractors are being used whenever possible.

“We’re having to make a lot of decisions as we go,” said Loftis.

One of the misconceptions Loftis wants to clear up is there will be no exhumations or altering of graves. It’s being done respectfully.

Local historian Kevin Rose is working on a map. Loftis hopes to contact families of those buried at the cemetery to invite at the rededication on Veterans Day.

“It’s history, a piece of property I’ve been involved with for a long time that we’re taking from a negative to a positive. It can be a place to walk or whatever you want to make out of it,” he said.

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