Lively history

SHEPHERDSTOWN – With Shepherdstown marking the 250th anniversary of its founding this year, what better time for a book that sheds light on leaders, Civil War soldiers, artists and others buried in the village’s historic cemetery?

Officials with the Elmwood Cemetery Association have just put out a 168-page guide detailing every gravesite in Elmwood, from the final resting place of Ada Butler Abbott to that of Nellie Zombro – nearly 6,000 graves in all.

Dorrene and Don Hale spent months in Shepherdstown’s historic Elmwood Cemetery to catalog every gravesite. The cemetery board has put their research into a new book and proceeds from the $20 volume will go toward tombstone restoration.

“We were out here in the heat, the cold, in the rain, in the snow – even sleet,” said Don Hale, who along with his wife, Dorrene, spent more than a year visiting the cemetery nearly every day.

Starting in the fall of 2010, the pair painstakingly recorded the writing on each tombstone and then matched the information to cemetery records and historical data from state and national registries. They finished their work in early 2012.

The Hales, who for more than a decade have helped with similar surveys in Rosedale and other Berkeley County cemeteries, know that the hours they spent will pay off down the road for family genealogists, historians and other researchers.

“Instead of someone having to physically come out here and search around to find the grave they’re looking for, they can just turn to this book,” explains Dorrene, a Jefferson County native who serves on Elmwood’s board of directors.

Buying the book is a good deed in itself: all proceeds go to Elmwood’s association, to be used to restore aged tombstones. The volunteer association relies on the community’s donations to cover tombstone restoration, maintenance such as cutting grass in warm months and clearing snow through the winter, and for other needs.

The $20 book may be purchased at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, the Jefferson County Museum at the Old Charles Town Library, the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, the Entler Hotel & Museum in Shepherdstown or directly from any cemetery association board member.

The idea for the book came after Dorrene created a searchable database of all the gravesites listed in the cemetery association’s records.

As they completed that work, the Hales realized it would be helpful to offer a record of as much information as possible about all the graves at Elmwood. They set out to gather all available info about each plot, including the deceased’s full name, birthday, date of death and any family relationships, military designation or other details included on the tombstone.

In many cases, the text on the tombstone proved impossible to decipher or wasn’t complete, so the couple turned to the Social Security Death Index and the West Virginia Vital Records to round out the entry. They also included information about those buried in the cemetery but whose graves do not bear markers.

As the Hales started their task, they went first to the oldest of Elmwood’s four graveyards, the one in the northeast corner of the site that was chartered by the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church in 1780. Its oldest grave belongs to Sarah Morrow, who passed away in the fall of 1793.

The other sections of the cemetery are the Methodist Cemetery (begun in 1833), the Confederate Cemetery (established in 1868) and Elmwood Cemetery itself, which was chartered in 1869.

 

There are many familiar names throughout, the Hales discovered, including famed, New York-born railroad photographer O. Winston Link (whose father was a native of Duffields) and Joseph McMurran, the first president of Shepherd College.

Two Revolutionary War soldiers are interred at Elmwood, along with 114 Confederates, both those killed nearby at the 1862 Battle of Antietam and others who later succumbed to wounds suffered there. Morrow holds not only the distinction of the oldest grave in Elmwood, but she also has a tie to early American history: a son-in-law was steamboat pioneer James Rumsey.

“It gives you a lot of satisfaction to see a book like this finished and available to the public,” Dorrene Hale explains.

Her husband agrees: “You know you’ve helped to put together information that will be useful in the years to come. That feels good.”

 

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