CANTON — With help from many family members and friends, four women from Canton have cleaned 250 gravestones at five of the town’s 13 cemeteries.

The idea to clean and repair the gravestones came about when Carole Robbins, a member of the Canton Select Board, started thinking about preparing for the town’s bicentennial, coming in 2021.

“I had the ‘brain cramp’ that wouldn’t it be nice if we had the original (gravestones of) settlers in town and some of the more influential (people), if we had their gravesites fixed and cleaned and uprighted and repaired and whatever needed to be done,” Robbins said.

It was not long before Robbins’ sister, Anne Chamberlin, and their friends Prudy Adams and Robyn McClintock, all Canton residents with ancestors from Canton, joined in to help with cleaning the gravestones.

For Prudy Adams and the other women, preparing for and having a Wreaths Across America event at Hillside Cemetery in Canton last December prompted their desire to do more with veterans’ graves.

“It was just neat to see the kids come out to do the Pledge of Allegiance and have taps played at the (Wreaths Across America event),” Adams said.

During the event, the four women and other Canton residents helped children who were members of the town’s 4-H club lay wreaths on veterans’ graves.

Cleaning the town’s important sculptures and gravestones

The group has cleaned the statue of the Union soldier in the center of town. At the cemeteries, Adams said, the women have found the gravestones of people important to Canton’s history, including Gustavus Hayford, the first settler of Canton, buried at Pine Grove Cemetery; Albion E. Bradbury, who donated money for the Bradbury Chapel, built in 1908, and who is buried at Hillside Cemetery; and Joseph Holland, donor of three-quarters of an acre of Hillside Cemetery.

Learning to clean the gravestones

To learn how to clean the gravestones without damaging them, the women attended a demonstration given by a member of the Maine Old Cemetery Association in the spring.

From the demonstration, they learned to use a solution called D/2 Biological Solution and soft brushes, plastic scrapers or old credit cards.

“The training on cleaning stones is very specific about what you do and what you don’t do and the tenant around cleaning stones is ‘do no harm’,” Chamberlin said. “So using the wrong materials may look great initially — like a lot of people use bleach, but that can do some damage but D/2 doesn’t.”

Other positive aspects of using the D/2 solution are that it continues to remove the residue off the stone after it’s sprayed on and it “doesn’t kill the grass,” as Robyn McClintock shared.

“It doesn’t hurt the plants or us as we sometimes spray ourselves (by mistake). If there are big stones one of us works on the back and one works on the front and you might spray each other,” said McClintock.

The women have also held their own training and found other people want to get involved and learn to clean their own families’ stones.

“That has been gratifying that people have come forward,” Chamberlin said.

Another benefit of showing others how to clean the stones has been having their own families get involved. Chamberlin said her family members and her 5-year-old grandson, Colin, loved rinsing off gravestones.

“Any kid that’s been involved wants to have their own pump spray,” Chamberlin said.

Recently, on the way to the beach with his mother, Colin and his mother passed a cemetery and Colin insisted they should clean it, Chamberlin said.

The women also shared how Canton resident Liz Rothrock’s 9-year-old nephew, Kael, wrote a story recently about accompanying his Aunt Liz to clean the stones, saying: “That made me proud and it always will.”

Long-term goal

One of the group’s long-term goals is to create complete and accurate maps of the 13 cemeteries in Canton, according to Robbins.

“We want to get everything compiled so it’s history at a glance,” she said.

Prudy Adams, jokingly called the group’s secretary, has already begun the work of compiling all of the information about the work the women have accomplished at the cemeteries, along with information about the history of the deceased.

Adams uses an Excel spreadsheet to track the cleaned gravestones and keeps a separate list of the more than 250 stones that need repair at Pine Grove Cemetery.

“And now I have a master list that I’ve combined everything together, and we’re trying to put the date of death — either the age, whether they were a veteran (or if they belonged to the) Masons,” Adams said.

She also records the condition of the stone and information about any other relatives buried in Canton’s cemeteries.

Adams and McClintock also use a website — Find a Grave — to gather more information about the history of the deceased. With that website, the women can find photographs of gravestone and get information on the deceased, including years of birth and death, information on relatives and where the stone is located.

McClintock has also added information to the website. When she began her research on the site, Canton’s Hillside Cemetery showed 180 gravestones. With additional information, the site now shows more than 360 gravestones listed at Hillside Cemetery.

Fundraising efforts

Residents voted unanimously at the town meeting in June to provide $5,000 to help with the group’s work, and the town has created reserve accounts for its two largest cemeteries: Hillside and Pine Grove. The women are also working to raise money to have stones professionally restored, and to continue their work at the town’s 11 other cemeteries.

As part of the fundraising efforts, Robbins has sent out letters to local businesses asking for donations to help repair stones at the cemeteries.

Leveling and resetting a stone can cost more than $300, according to Robbins.

Donations for the town’s cemetery funds can also be made at the Canton Town Office or at local bottle redemption centers.

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Prudy Adams, left, Robyn McClintock, Anne Chamberlin and Carole Robbins of Canton have been working with several other Canton residents, family members and friends to clean gravestones in the town’s 13 cemeteries. On Wednesday they visited Adkins Hines cemetery for this photo. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

 

Anne Chamberlin works at cleaning a gravestone in one of Canton’s cemeteries with her grandson, Colin Dreher, 5, of Bangor this summer. She and other Canton residents have been cleaning gravestones of their family members as well as the town’s veterans and other older stones. Submitted photo.

 

Kael Wildemann, 8, of South Carolina, left, works with Canton residents Anne Chamberlin and his aunt Liz Rothrock to clean gravestones at one of Canton’s cemeteries this summer. Caroline Rothrock of Virginia is working on a gravestone behind them. Submitted photo.


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