Deb Probert teaches the regional chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution how to clean headstones at Center Burying Ground in Farmington on Tuesday, Sept. 28. Probert, who has volunteered to restore cemeteries across the region for a number of years, is very passionate about following the right steps for preservation. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Deb Probert has been one of many individuals involved in restoring Farmington’s historic cemeteries, in particular the Center Burying Ground downtown.

On Tuesday, Sept. 28, Probert led the Daughters of the American Revolution’s regional chapter, the Colonial Daughters in a master class on cleaning headstones and the importance of preserving cemeteries.

“We’re trying to get the cemetery looking like it originally did,” Probert explained.

Probert led the DAR through the cemetery, pointing out some of the work that’s already been done in the last year. That work is certainly noticeable. Freshly cleaned, off-white headstones contrast with those coated in thick layers of dirt and grime.

The DAR noticed one area in particular, where two towering obelisks are clean on the bottom and still dirty halfway up.

“It was as high as we could reach,” Probert explained.

Probert also told the DAR about the extent of the preservation efforts she and cemetery preservationist Albert Stehle, among others, have made at Center Burying Ground.

Some graves have tree roots and other plantings growing around and into stones and fences, pushing them out of place. They are also working to reset foot stones, most of which were removed and buried or scattered to make mowing the grounds easier, Probert said.

The DAR briefly speculated with Probert on who planted trees so close to the cemetery, a frowned-upon practice, and why.

Probert then got to work. She first coated the headstone in a layer of water. Then, she began scraping off the initial layer of dirt. She followed up the water with D/2 Biological Solution, a cleaning agent that can be safely used on stone masonry. Next is scrubbing, which Probert said is “where you get your exercise in.” After a final rinse with water, the D/2 continues to work into the stone in the days to come.

This process is very important to Probert, who is passionate about the right way to preserve cemeteries and headstones. Probert was specifically “very upset” with towns like Jay and Livermore that power-washed and bleached their cemeteries’ headstones, which effectively wrecks them.

Following her tutorial, Probert handed over the reigns to members of the DAR, who got down on their knees to clean some headstones themselves.

From left, Daughters of the American Revolution members Amanda Beane and Roxie Hennings begin the process of cleaning headstones at Center Burying Ground in Farmington on Tuesday, Sept. 28. Beane and Hennings see this kind of work as aligned with the mission of the DAR. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

DAR members Roxie Hennings, from Oakland, and Amanda Beane, from Farmington, worked side by side.

“Preserving and understanding history is so important,” Hennings said. “If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you are now.”

“Showing pride in your community helps everybody. It’s infectious,” Beane said.

Beane believes that preservation work like this aligns with the DAR’s mission of “education and preservation.”

More so, work like this “gives someone a chance to discover their relatives,” Beane said.

And Beane is right on that. By uncovering the engravings on the headstones, this preservation work is assisting the Farmington Historical Society with work to document and develop a database of who has been laid to rest in the cemetery.

Probert enjoys the work because “it’s satisfying,” like gardening. Beane agreed, describing the physical process of cleaning the graves as “rewarding.”

Probert hopes that after this class, members of the DAR develop a passion for this kind of preservation work. Probert pays for her own supplies to clean the headstones, though said she doesn’t spend more than $100 dollars a summer.

“I want people to know it does not cost a lot to do this work,” Probert said.

By the end of the class, Probert and DAR members posed the idea to lead another cleaning session in the spring to hopefully get the cemetery in better shape by Memorial Day.

So far, Probert estimates that about 15-20% of graves in Center Burying Ground have been restored in this latest initiative, which began last year.

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