Revolutionary Gravestones Get a Facelift

October 2, 2023

Work is almost complete on the renovation of the Revolutionary War section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Acton. MKai Nalenz, President and Chief Conservator at Gravestone Services of New England, reports that he expects the work to be finished in mid-October. You might be lucky enough to see him straightening gravestones with a crane if you visit Woodlawn on a weekday morning over the next couple of weeks. Nalenz is a Veteran himself, having served in the German navy in the early 90s. “It’s been such a pleasure working on this project. I got to meet a number of very appreciative residents. I noticed some amazing carvings, and in some cases, a person’s entire life is summarized in the epitaph.”

A small crane lifts a grave marker
Photo: Kim Clark, Land Use Office Manager

The Revolutionary War Section contains about 400 gravestones. Many of them were covered in lichen, and a significant number were tilted, fallen off their bases, and even broken due to the effects of weathering. The lichen is being removed using a biodegradable cleaner and without scrubbing, which can damage the stones. The breaks are repaired with an adhesive, and gravestones that have fallen or are tilted are replaced and straightened using the crane.

Half of the $100,000 project was funded with Cemetery funds approved by the Cemetery Commissioners, and the other half by an allocation of Community Preservation funds approved by 2022 Annual Town Meeting. The Commission submitted a Community Preservation Act funding application on November 15, 2021. The project was given a high priority by the Select Board, their reasoning being that the renovation should be completed in time for the 250th Anniversary of the Commencement of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. The application narrative suggested that “one of Acton’s showpieces for this special occasion should be the Revolutionary War section of Acton’s Woodlawn Cemetery, which includes graves of numerous Acton participants in that war.”

The application narrative also provided a bit of cemetery history. “Founded in 1738, Woodlawn Cemetery, a municipally owned and operated cemetery, is a well-preserved example of a rural to suburban New England burial ground that illustrates evolving concepts of funerary from the Colonial period through the twentieth century. It was established in the early eighteenth century when it became clear that the North Acton Cemetery was too small and too remote for general utility to the community. The original deed for a half acre of land that would become the oldest part of the cemetery is dated January 16, 1737.” The cemetery in North Acton is the Forest Cemetery on Carlisle Road, and there is also a third cemetery in West Acton, the Mt. Hope Cemetery, established in 1848.

Woodlawn’s Revolutionary War section is bounded by Concord Road and the interior roads of Prospect, Cedar, and Grove Avenues. It includes Woodlawn’s oldest burials, the earliest dating to 1740-41. The Acton Historical Society provides a list of soldiers and sailors of the American Revolution buried in Acton cemeteries.


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