Members of the Village of Owego “Evergreen Cemetery Committee” and the “Friends of Owego Evergreen Cemetery, Inc.” are together bringing awareness to several improvements that have been completed at the cemetery, along with future plans.
A renewed energy has brought people together on both committees, and all to support the upkeep at one of Owego’s beloved historic places.
Evergreen Cemetery, which dates back to 1851 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the final resting place for more than 9,200 burials. Visitors enjoy Evergreen’s park-like appeal that overlooks the Village of Owego and the Susquehanna River, and especially make the trek to take in the scenery from the Sa Sa Na Loft monument.
John Ricklefs, chairperson of the Village of Owego’s “Evergreen Cemetery Committee” commented, “We want to get the cemetery looking more like it did back in its original day,” adding, “It’s important that we protect it.”
A cultural landscape report of Evergreen Cemetery, by noted landscape architect, Martha Lyons, was presented earlier this year. The committee is using suggestions from that report to set project priorities.
Recommendations included restoring the chapel and caretaker’s cottage, developing a coordinated sign program, devise a parking plan, improve access to the paupers’ area and make a plan to restore headstones and crypts, just to name a few.
Ricklefs, who joined the committee in April 2017, has been chairperson for about half of that time. He explained that a small group from the Village Department of Public Works (DPW), about four or five people, regularly mow and weed trim.
Evergreen Cemetery encompasses just over 50 acres. Ricklefs explained that it is a lot of ground to cover for the small DPW group.
“DPW has been making a difference this year, and it shows,” Ricklefs said.
Additionally, once a month the committee members gather at the cemetery with focus on a particular project, such as cutting back invasive plants and bushes to cleaning out overgrown brush.
Many of the shrubs and bushes have grown next to or underneath old monuments, and then the issue is compounded when ice builds up underneath. If left unattended, Ricklefs said, the monuments could be in danger of becoming unsteady or falling over.
The committee wishes to get word out to families or descendants that they can help clean up, too. Ricklefs said he is willing to meet families at the cemetery to discuss a plan of action.
Volunteers are welcome, too, and after completing a “Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk” form. An adult must accompany volunteers under the age of 18.
Ricklefs has been working diligently on compiling a list of over 300 names of individuals buried in the Paupers Field, a tedious task of locating terra cotta grave markers, and then matching up names to markers.
Ricklefs remarked, “Preserving the Paupers Field is a project near and dear to my heart. All of the folks buried there deserve just as much recognition as everyone else buried at Evergreen.”
Marie Ward, president of the “Friends of Owego Evergreen Cemetery, Inc.” explained that the group has received their 501c3 non-profit status. The mission of the group is to support projects at the cemetery for the purpose of preserving, expanding, educating and maintaining the beauty and landscaping. Funding for projects will be raised via a combination of gifts, grants, contributions, and fundraising activities or special events.
At a recent Friends meeting, future projects were discussed. Projects such as assisting plot owners in understanding how to properly clean a head stone or do marker rubbings, applying for grants to assist in repairing broken grave markers, and installing educational signage are just three examples.
One project that had been planned for this summer, a guided tour for children by a historian, was put on the back burner for next year due to coronavirus concerns.
Ward said, “For the youth in our area, we want them to learn about and respect Evergreen Cemetery.”
Ward and Ricklefs both noted that headstones are the property of plot owners, so any physical repairs must start by the family completing necessary forms.
Individuals interested in joining the Friends Group can reach out by email to FriendsOwegoEvergreen@gmail.com or email@example.com. An updated Facebook page, “Friends Owego Evergreen,” is in the works.
The Village of Owego Evergreen Cemetery Committee meets on the first Monday of each month at the DPW building located on Elm Street. Meetings start at 5:30 p.m. and are open to the public. You can also contact John Ricklefs at firstname.lastname@example.org or find the group on Facebook, “Evergreen Cemetery Committee.”