Miss George saves a cemetery

Sepia Saturday 448: Seventh in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

In addition to her career in education, my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George was active in civic projects in the Endwell, N.Y., community where she taught.

So in 1960, the same year she directed me and my classmates in her play about Endwell’s early settlers, Miss George was also hard at work on a committee to restore the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery where they were buried.

Hooper-Patterson Cemetery as viewed from River Road in Endwell, Broome County, N.Y. (2018) Rather than a scary place, this cemetery became a fascinating destination for me and my fourth grade classmates. We would ride there on our bicycles to read the tombstone inscriptions and keep tabs on the restoration project our teacher Miss George was involved in. Photo: Molly Charboneau

My fascination with cemeteries — which I share with many genealogists and family historians — took root during my year in Miss George’s class, where she held forth on the disgrace of a historic cemetery overgrown with weeds and neglected by the town.

A fascinating cemetery

Miss George gave us regular updates on the cemetery restoration efforts — and we wanted to see them for ourselves. Thus the small Hooper-Patterson Cemetery — rather than seeming a scary place haunted by ghosts — became a historically interesting destination that my classmates and I often rode to on our bicycles.

We also wanted to know more about the characters we portrayed in Miss George’s play — and as we read the tombstones we were surprised to discover many graves of children, some of whom had died when they were younger than us. An unforgettably sobering experience for a fourth grader!

Grave makers in Hooper-Patterson Cemetery (2018). Miss George was involved in early restoration of this historic Endwell, N.Y., cemetery, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. These efforts are continued today by volunteer restorationists. Photo: Molly Charboneau

A few years back, I contacted the Broome County Historical Society to see if they might have copies of Miss George’s plays. They did not — but instead they sent a copy of a small brochure titled “Endwell’s Early Days: A Profile,” which Miss George wrote in 1960.

When the brochure arrived I suddenly remembered having seen it as a child — with its careful sketch of the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery and tombstones, along with transcripts of each stone and a narrative history in the voice of settler Amos Patterson. Rereading it was like being in Miss George’s class all over again! (Click here to see the brochure.)

A collective restoration campaign

Probably because she loomed large in my fourth-grade life, I always thought Miss George was the catalyst of the cemetery restoration.

http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn90066578/1960-05-25/ed-1/seq-5.pdf
Endicott Daily Bulletin article (May 25, 1960). “The restoration committee with assistance by Miss Helen George, a Hooper School teacher, is compiling a brochure which will include the location of each tombstone, and the inscription and history,” the Bulletin reported. Source/full page: nyshistoricnewspapers.org

But according a May 25, 1960, article in Endicott Daily Bulletin, the Endwell Rotary Club (which my dad belonged to) and the Garden Club of Endwell were key players on the restoration committee.

“The project has included the replacing of tombstones, restoration of the cemetery fence, grading, and seeding of the lawn,” the article said. “The Garden Club expects to do some planting.”

The  project was not without its challenges. According to the article, “Inclement weather has hindered the project schedule. The committee last Saturday found two sections of the cemetery fence in the Susquehanna River.” Nevertheless, the restoration moved ahead — as did publication of Miss George’s brochure.

“The restoration committee with assistance by Miss Helen George, a Hooper School teacher, is compiling a brochure which will include the location of each tombstone, and the inscription and history,” the Bulletin reported.

Restoration efforts continue

I pay a nostalgic visit the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery whenever I am in Endwell, usually for my high school reunion — and this year was no exception.

The cemetery overlooking the Susquehanna River still looks good — grass mowed and damaged tombstones propped up. No signs of the weedy neglect Miss George was so worked up about in 1960.

While researching this blog post, I made the happy discovery that the cemetery has inspired a new generation of volunteer restorationists to take up the task of keeping the grounds and stones in shape — after one of them happened upon the graveyard during a walk on River Road.

They’re raising funds, resetting pavers, clearing brush, trimming trees and doing what they can to keep the cemetery looking good — just like Miss George and her committee did when she was around. I’m sure she would be pleased.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here. 

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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7 thoughts on “Miss George saves a cemetery”

  1. Your admiration for Miss George shines through your writing. I can see how her work as a volunteer recording monumental, inscriptions helped inspire your own interest in family history. I am fortunate in my own region of the Scottish Borders where there are teams of volunteers doing similar work to,preserve our heritage in this way.

  2. It’s interesting that Miss George wanted to record the names and dates of the grave markers to preserve the history. Not unlike efforts by volunteers on the internet today. It doesn’t take many generations to lose the family connections in a cemetery. Was this a community or church cemetery?

    And thanks for the link on postcard history. I’m hoping one day to find a comparable 1898 American postcard of a band.

    1. This was a family cemetery that fell into decline and was taken over by the town as a result of the 1960 restoration project. Miss George posthumously contributed to online preservation, too. Several years ago, I shared her brochure with Find-a-Grave volunteers who were cataloging this cemetery so they could include the graves of those whose stones were no longer standing.

  3. Cemeteries can be lovely places to visit and stroll through just for the scenery if they’re managed and taken care of properly. We had a beautiful cemetery just two blocks from where I grew up. My grandparents’ ashes are buried there and I remember going there often – not only to see their markers, but just to walk through the pretty grounds with perfectly manicured lawns and all manner of flowering greenery with a waterfall and a little stream meandering throughout.

    1. From my early start at this local graveyard, I have also found cemeteries to be lovely places to enjoy history and nature in combination. Also, because they are less disturbed than parks cemeteries often retain the original quality of pre-development geography.

  4. I’m so pleased to see a cemetery as the focus of volunteer efforts…as the descendants move away from towns, there is often less sense of “ownership” of these landmarks. Sometimes just one family has taken on the stewardship as a way to honor their ancestors…and in bigger cemeteries in cities of course there may be employees as groundskeepers. This was lovely to read about your teacher’s role in the cemetery you first visited.

    1. Thanks, Barb. I am also glad about the volunteers. It would be a shame for the work begun in 1960 by Miss George and others to fall by the wayside — especially when the town has experienced harder economic times in recent years with loss of local manufacturing.

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