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Midd Rotary Club to spruce up Old Town cemetery

MIDDLEBURY — Tucked just off the west side of Washington Street Extension, partway down the slight hill east of Bushey’s Corner and just before the Painter Hill neighborhood, lies a slightly disheveled cemetery known variously as the Hammond/Bushey Cemetery, or the Old Town cemetery, or Old Middlebury cemetery.
First used in 1794, the small lot contains 95 graves and, according to the Vermont Old Cemetery Association, the most recent burial there was of Marjorie Bushey, who died in 2011. Other well-known families whose members were buried there include the Buttolphs, Garlicks, Goodrichs, Hammonds, Blairs, Carrs and Kirbys.
But as with many small, formerly private cemeteries scattered across the Green Mountain State, weeds and shrubs have grown up on the perimeter of the cemetery. Town crews mow the grass through the summer and try to beat back the brush, shrubs, smaller trees and weeds that will retake the land unless it’s met with determined resistance.
To that end, the Rotary Club of Middlebury is organizing a clean up of the Hammond/Bushey Cemetery this coming Saturday, May 11, from 8 a.m. to noon, and the club is reaching out to encourage volunteers to join in their effort.
“We’d love it if a couple dozen volunteers would show up, bringing tools such as hand clippers or small hand saws, or just come help drag the cut brush for the town’s Public Works crew to collect,” said Middlebury Rotarian David Clark, the former librarian for Middlebury’s Ilsley Library.
Clark noted that a member of the Buttolph family, John Lucius Buttolph III, who is the secretary of the Vermont Society Sons of the American Revolution, expects some volunteers will be coming from around the state as there are Revolutionary War veterans in the cemetery. Also expected are some members of the Vermont Old Cemetery Association, but Clark added “there is more than enough work for a host of volunteers.”
Clark said the Rotary decided to take on this small clean up as a hands-on project the community could get involved with, and because it needed sprucing up.
“I drive by it most every day and just thought it was something we could do as one of our many community service projects,” Clark said. “We sometimes get too involved in raising big money for things, instead of just encouraging folks to get involved with their hands and a little effort. People like to work together to get something done, and this is one of those opportunities.”
The Hammond-Bushey Cemetery is one of eight or nine old cemeteries in Middlebury. Other cemeteries, include: Case Street-Northeast, Foote Street, Prospect-East Middlebury, Saint Mary, Seeley-Farmingdale, Washington Street-Kirby, West Street, and Middlebury’s largest cemetery located off South Main street.
The town’s public works department mows the grass on most of the cemeteries that have transferred from once-private plots to the public domain.
That’s due to a provision in state law that specifies that “when the use and care of a private burial ground has been abandoned and such ground becomes unsightly from any cause, or when headstones or monuments have been displaced, the selectboard or board of cemetery commissioners having charge of the public cemeteries in the town … shall proceed then and thereafter as if such ground were a public burial place.”
State statutes also provide for preservation of cemetery records, charging the agency (town or otherwise) “engaged in the business of a cemetery… shall provide and maintain a suitable place of deposit for the records and files of such cemetery…”
Clark noted that such files were not available for the Hammond-Bushey Cemetery, and put out a request looking for information such as any of its early history or start-up. Anyone who might have information could contact either Clark at 388-9792, or Linda Williams at 388-0401.
And for those interested in cleaning up an older cemetery near you, there’s a handy reference book called “Digging Deep: Unearthing the Mysteries of Burial and Cemetery Law” by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos. There are several dos and don’ts when tackling such a project, and it can be illegal to move or clean up cemeteries in ways that disturb gravestones, even if the intent is to “improve” the appearance; so careful research is required.
As for the Rotary Club helping to spruce up other cemeteries in Middlebury, Clark was noncommittal. “I don’t know, we haven’t discussed that, but it could be a possibility, depending on how many volunteers we get and what their interest is, but first we’ll do this one, then perhaps schedule another work date to clean or straighten some of the headstones, then we’ll see what’s next.”

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