Volunteers Clean Up Bridgeport Cemetery
BRIDGEPORT — Volunteers came to Weeks Cemetery Saturday morning, hard at work cleaning up the overgrown grounds of many loved ones’ final resting place.
Tim Smith organized the cleanup, which began around 8 a.m. He is a Bridgeport resident who lives near the border of the 14-acre cemetery, which holds about 4,000 graves.
“Before Memorial Day it became a concern,” he said, “There was a lady from Perry, Ohio called me and said she had come all the way down and she couldn’t get out of the car because she was elderly, and sat there and cried because she couldn’t visit her mother.”
He noted the volunteer participation was exceptional despite the rising temperature of the day, which reached 90 degrees by midday.
“We’ve pulled together as a community. We have the resources,” he said.
Close to 50 people had soon arrived, with more volunteers showing up throughout the morning, including some high school students and 4-H members.
“It’s just awesome. Everybody’s really jumping on it.”
The cemetery dates to the 1800s and includes monuments and headstones from the Civil War, as well as more recently deceased. In parts of the cemetery, the grass has been knee-to-shoulder high.
“There’s anything from small children aged three, four and five on one stone. … There’s a monument to all the soldiers who lie here. There’s a cannon of here,” he said.
Smith said the work had been ongoing through the week.
“We met one day down here in the cemetery and hit it off, and have been working together to get all of this accomplished,” he said.
Tom DeVaul of Colerain, another organizer, said the cemetery had grown more dilapidated during the past three years. He thanked the volunteers for their considerable support both on Saturday and throughout the past week.
“I’ve been getting calls, Tim’s been getting calls. A lot of support. There’s been people coming all week. I come here and mow my family at least once a week,” he said, adding that they are in the process of determining if juveniles with community service obligations could do future maintenance tasks.
“A lot of people don’t know the historical value of this cemetery and numerous others in the county,” DeVaul said, he said, adding that three generations of his family has been laid to rest there.
The volunteers had about six tractors and several weed eaters. Smith said the village provided two tractors and additional weed eaters. Other volunteers brought their own equipment. Local businesses such as BET Rental, Carson Petroleum has donated fuel, Colerain IGA, Jon’s Johns, JB Green Tea, and South Central Power donated equipment and supplies.
Volunteers spoke about the significance of the cemetery.
“I grew up in this area. My grandparents are buried down at the bottom of the hill and my great-grandparents are buried on the top of the hill,” Jeff Brothers, lifelong resident of Bridgeport said. “It needs taken care of. … I don’t think it’s ever been in this bad a shape.”
Fran Zann, a resident of Bridgeport for the past 38 years, also lives within sight of the cemetery. She said while she has no loved ones laid to rest on the grounds, the cemetery is a landmark of the community and has emotional significance for her.
“It has never looked this bad,” she said. “I agree with (Smith) that something needed to be done. … I thought the community could. I grew up here, and when I was a little girl we used to come up and play with all the Civil War monuments and that sort of thing, so it’s heartbreaking to see how it’s all gone.”
“My two sons are buried up here, my parents are buried up here, my grandparents on my mom and dad’s side are here, and my great-grandparents. I have several aunts and uncles, cousins, you name it and there’s someone up here,” Jim Porter of Bridgeport said. “I maintain my whole section.”
Porter added hat he was heartened by the number of volunteers who showed up to help.
The cemetery belongs to the Village of Bridgeport, which is in a state of fiscal emergency.