Set in Stone
Two significant developments – gaining official historic status and meeting a funding challenge – will help to ensure that efforts to restore and preserve Wheeling’s Mount Wood Cemetery will continue.
The cemetery, dating to the mid-1800s, has been named to the National Register of Historic Places. “It is Wheeling’s only cemetery to be honored with such a classification,” said Bekah Karelis, historian at Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp.
Officials of the National Park Service approved the historic designation in September, she said. Karelis wrote the National Register nomination, in connection with larger efforts to see Mount Wood Cemetery restored.
In another important development, area citizens have stepped up and opened their wallets to meet an anonymous donor’s challenge. Earlier this year, the anonymous donor gave $5,000 to establish a Mount Wood Cemetery Fund at the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley. The anonymous contributor then offered to donate an additional $5,000 if members of the community matched that sum. Community donors met the matching challenge, Karelis said.
To date, $15,125 has been raised for the cemetery fund, said Susie Nelson, executive director of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley. That sum represents $10,000 in gifts from the anonymous donor and $5,125 from community contributors. Donations will continue to be accepted.
Other people can make tax-deductible donations to the Mount Wood Fund. Checks with “Mount Wood” written in the memo line can be sent to the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, P.O. Box 670, Wheeling WV 26003.
“This money has made possible the purchase of supplies for the monthly workdays, such as D 2 Biological Solution used in cleaning monuments and epoxy for fixing broken stones, as well as tools like rakes, shovels and crowbars necessary to do the resetting and leveling of gravestones,” Karelis explained.
Karelis added, “Most importantly, the Mount Wood Fund will help in tackling some of the projects that are too large for volunteers to handle and that call for special machinery and skilled labor. Plans are being made, with the help of Kirk Boughner of Boswell Monuments, to reset five large obelisks in Section A at the top of the hill this fall. This work will include the use of epoxy on each monument, so that future vandalism will be made impossible.”
Jeanne Finstein, president of Friends of Wheeling, said that, with funding, officials can set priorities for projects to tackle first in the cemetery. She explained that work on restoring and preserving toppled and damaged monuments has begun at the top of the hill in Mount Wood because that is “where the most prominent people are buried.”
Several early leaders of the city and numerous Civil War veterans are interred in the historic burial grounds.
Over the years, a number of monuments and grave markers have been damaged by the ravages of time, falling trees and vandals.
Friends of Wheeling, a local historic preservation group, conducted a Civil War-related tour of Mount Wood in May. Members of the organization also have been instrumental in efforts to restore the old markers.
WNHAC, the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, the Irene Meagel Fund from the Community Foundation and Friends of Wheeling were sponsors for a three-day gravestone conservation workshop conducted this summer. More than 30 participants learned techniques from professional conservator Jonathan Appell during sessions conducted at Mount Wood and in Ohio County’s Mount Zion Cemetery.
Volunteers from several area organizations have participated in the cleanup efforts at Mount Wood over the past several months. “Periodically we will go up and do manual labor,” Finstein said. “We are resetting some of the smaller stones and cleaning.”
Gaining the distinction of being named to the National Register of Historic Places “makes it (the cemetery) eligible for certain types of funding,” Finstein said. She explained that such grants could be awarded for work “not on individual monuments, but on structural things like the gates and mausoleums.”
Finstein said, “We’ve also contacted Jeff Forster (an area iron fabricator) about the gates and the white zinc monument that is Capt. (John) McLure’s that a tree knocked down.” The tall McLure monument is now broken into three sections as a result of the natural damage.
The next workday for volunteers will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26. Workdays “will continue until the weather turns too cold,” Karelis said. After a short break during the winter months, the workdays will resume in the spring, she added.
Area residents who are interested in participating in the restoration efforts or learning more about helping can call Karelis at 304-232-3087.
Students in Belmont College’s building preservation and restoration program also are going to participate in the preservation and restoration efforts that have begun at Mount Wood Cemetery.
The students and instructor Cathie Senter will begin working on the project Monday, Oct. 21. “The donated work will act as part of the students’ Materials and Methods class; there are 11 local students who will be working on this project,” said Julie L. Mamie, public relations coordinator at the college.
“The fact that WNHAC has this ongoing project at Mount Wood, coupled with the importance of volunteering in the community, was perfect to allow our first-year BPR students some hands-on work in masonry,” Mamie commented. “Each student will be volunteering 12 hours over the course of a three-week period.”
In addition, the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists group is conducting a cemetery survey to determine exactly who is buried at Mount Wood and where those graves are located, Karelis said. Previously-compiled records are incomplete and, in some cases, list conflicting information, she noted.
Members of the organization have responded enthusiastically to the project. Elizabeth Paulhus, an organizer of the Young Preservationists, observed that “there seems to be something about this beautiful old cemetery that has captured the hearts of many OVYP members. It has been wonderful to watch people fall in love with this place. The survey project also has brought some new people to the table whose energy and perspectives will help OVYP continue to grow.”
Paulhus said, “Once we input the data collected by our volunteers, we plan on creating an online interactive map that could be used by genealogists, students, teachers, historians and other researchers to find information about the individuals buried in Mount Wood. You would be able to zoom in on plots to see who was buried in each, or you could search for a specific name to discover where that person was buried in the cemetery. There may even be ways for the public to add information to the map, making it an even richer resource.”
The events that have taken place on behalf of the cemetery’s welfare throughout 2013 “have all been part of collaborative efforts to see this special place protected,” Karelis pointed out.
Mount Wood Cemetery, established in 1848, “was a popular place of interment during the 1800s, as well as a place to visit, because of its natural beauty and location on top of Wheeling Hill. It is the only spot in Wheeling where you can see both the Ohio River Valley and the Wheeling Creek Valley,” Karelis noted.
The historian explained, “The cemetery is significant because it is a classic example of the mid-1800s ‘rural romantic movement’ in landscape architecture with park-like grounds, lawn benches, stately trees and beautiful flowers throughout. Though the cemetery no longer has bushes, flowers and benches, the fabulous view, park-like ground and stately trees remain.”
Karelis related, “Also, the cemetery is significant for its examples of antebellum, Victorian-era and early to mid-20th-century funerary art, design and commemoration. It includes a wide range of artistic expressions from vernacular hand-carved stones to ornate Victorian and Classical-styled gravestones. A majority of the markers on this property date from 1840s to1930s with the greatest concentration being from the mid- to late 1800s.”
Many people of interest are buried in the cemetery. Karelis said they include Dr. Simon Hullihen, considered the father of oral surgery; Capt. John McLure, a prominent riverboat captain; Edward Norton, an early city leader; Noah Linsly, founder of Linsly Military Institute; John Goshorn, owner of the last slave to be returned under the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850; Eliza Hughes, the first woman doctor to practice medicine in the newly-formed state of West Virginia, and Col. Joseph Thoburn, who served with the First West Virginia Infantry and was killed at the Battle of Kernstown in 1864.